Diabetes has become Northern Ireland's silent killer, GP says
Diabetes must be treated more seriously by the public as it has become “the silent killer” in Northern Ireland, a County Antrim GP has said.
It is estimated that 100,000 people in the region have diabetes and about £1m is spent by the health service each day on treating people with the condition.
Figures show that 235 people had limbs amputated due to the disease in 2015.
Diabetes causes a person’s blood sugar level to become dangerously high.
There are two main types – while people are often born with type one, others will develop type two as a result of obesity and lack of exercise.
Now a pilot scheme in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust is trying to bring the number of amputations down.
Operating out of the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, patients will see their podiatrist, dietician and nurse under one roof all within 24 hours, if required.
GPs can refer an emergency case knowing the person will be seen sometimes on the same day.
One such patient is Breda O’Kane, who was diagnosed with type two diabetes six years ago.
Among her symptoms were ulcers on her feet and she had to have two toes amputated.
She has acknowledged that she underestimated the real risks of her condition.
“They are so painful, very, very painful – it’s not nice living with them,” Ms O’Kane said.
“There are so many things you can’t do with ulcers – you can’t wear shoes, it’s hard to walk.
“I can’t go swimming and all because I didn’t treat my condition seriously – I wish now I had.”
The Northern Health and Social Care Trust has the highest number of diabetes cases, with more than 22,000 men and women on the diabetes register.
Elaine Davidson, the health trust’s chief podiatrist, said diabetes can “attack” a person’s nervous system, blood supply and the arteries in their legs.
“Because your feet are the furthest part away from the heart, with limited blood supply, the reaction can be devastating,” she said.
“You can get blockages in the arteries, so a minor trauma to the foot can cause blisters, which can sometimes mean a foot emergency.
“We need to treat those patients within 24 to 48 hours.”
GP Brian Connor, who is the lead in the pilot project, is already seeing a reduction in the number of amputations in the health trust.
He said the pilot is proving to be successful.
“For many people who have diabetes this can be the silent killer,” he added.
“In the Northern Health Trust we have so many patients – the highest number of patients across all of the health trusts who have had amputations due to diabetes.
“Not only is this having an impact on the patients lives but also the health service due to the costs incurred.
“In fact, Northern Ireland spends around £1m a day treating diabetes.”
Source: BBC News – Northern Ireland