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Diabetes drugs cost NHS £725m

Diabetes drugs account for 8.4% of the NHS medicines bill, costing £725 million a year.

The amount spent in 2010/11 was up 41% on the £513 million spent in 2005/06, when diabetes drugs accounted for 6.6% of the overall budget.

This compares to an 11% rise in the overall cost of the NHS drugs bill between the two periods.

One in every 25 prescription items now dispensed is for diabetes - accounting for 38.3 million items, according to the England data from the NHS Information Centre.

This is up 41% on the number in 2005/06 (27.1 million).

Most of the rise is down to the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and unhealthy lifestyles.

There are 2.5 million people in the UK with Type 2 diabetes while a further 850,000 people are estimated to be undiagnosed.

Many people are on a combination of drugs to try to keep their blood sugar levels under control, and two out of three items now dispensed manage the body's own production of insulin.

The next most commonly issued drugs are injectable insulins, which are vital when the pancreas cannot produce enough of the hormone itself.

Insulin works by keeping the level of sugar in the bloodstream within a normal range.

NHS Information Centre chief executive Tim Straughan said: "Today's report paints a picture of an ever increasing drugs bill to cope with the demands of society triggered by diabetes.

"This information will help people and health professionals see the impact that caring for diabetes has on NHS prescribing; and support the NHS in planning for how to best address the condition moving forward."

Bridget Turner, head of policy and care improvement at Diabetes UK, said: "This report reinforces that diabetes is one of the biggest health challenges this country faces.

"Increasing diabetes prevalence has largely caused this rise in cost and numbers of prescriptions.

"Diabetes UK believes that people should have access to the most appropriate treatment to manage their diabetes and reduce the risk of devastating complications.

"The long-term costs of poor diabetes management, such as caring for someone who's had a heart attack or stroke, lost their sight or lower limb, far outweigh those of the drugs that help prevent such complications.

"Investment in education, support and improving access to reduce variations of care will empower people to effectively self-manage their condition.

"This will tackle the spiralling rates and costs of diabetes and help those diagnosed with the condition stay healthy."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "The number of people being diagnosed with diabetes is increasing and this continues to cause a rise in spending on drugs prescribed to manage the condition.

"However, the continued upward trend is not down to rising cases alone and a number of factors need to be considered such as increased access to new and more effective medicines and the move towards prescribing medicines preventatively.

"We are working with the NHS to help prevent people from developing diabetes and to identify people with diabetes sooner so that complications of the disease can be delayed or prevented."