New analysis shows shocking number of lower limb amputations related to diabetes

New analysis from Diabetes UK has shown that there were 26,378 lower limb amputations related to diabetes in England from 2014 to 2017, an increase of 19.4 per cent from 2010-2013.

There has been a significant rise in minor lower limb amputations (26.5 per cent), defined as below the ankle, and a more gradual increase in the number of major lower limb amputations (4.1 per cent), defined as below the knee.

People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of developing problems in their feet because high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, affecting how blood flows to the feet and legs. Unhealed ulcers and foot infections are the leading cause of diabetes related amputations, with diabetic foot ulcers preceding more than 80 per cent of amputations.

Diabetes is the most common cause of lower limb amputations in the UK. Someone living with diabetes is 20 times more likely to experience an amputation than someone without the condition.

Foot ulcers and amputations are also hugely costly for the NHS, with at least £1 in every £140 of NHS spending going towards foot care for people with diabetes. Foot problems can be devastating to a person’s quality of life and are often life-threatening.

Since 2017, NHS England’s Diabetes Transformation Fund has invested more than £80 million across England to improve access to specialist footcare teams to help people with diabetes look after their feet and avoid amputations. The fund has also been used to increase uptake of structured education for people with diabetes, to help them manage their condition well and understand the actions they must take to avoid complications, which can lead to amputation.

Diabetes UK is calling on NHS England to commit to maintaining the Diabetes Transformation Fund beyond 2019.

Dan Howarth, Head of Care at Diabetes UK, said:

The shocking number of lower limb amputations related to diabetes grows year on year. An amputation, regardless of whether it’s defined as minor or major, is devastating and life-changing. A minor amputation can still involve losing a whole foot.

To reduce the number of amputations related to diabetes, we are calling on NHS England to maintain the Diabetes Transformation Fund beyond 2019. Many diabetes amputations are avoidable, but the quality of footcare for people living with diabetes varies significantly across England. Transformation funding since 2017 is working and will help to reduce these variations, but much work still needs to be done.”

It is vital that all people living with diabetes know how to look after their feet, and check them regularly to look out for the signs of foot problems. It is also crucial that people with diabetes know how important it is to seek medical attention if they spot any signs of foot problems. A matter of hours can make the difference between losing a foot, and keeping a foot.

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