Diabetes Causes 9,000 Amputations a Year in England

Every year, surgeons carry out more than 9,000 amputation procedures on patients with circulation problems caused by diabetes. Significantly, £1 of every £140 spent by the National Health Service goes on foot care for these cases, a considerable amount when one considers total NHS outgoings. 

During an average week across England, 176 people undergo a minor or major amputation due to problems with peripheral circulation. In raising awareness of this startling figure, London-based research charity Diabetes UK aims to focus the attention of health service management on the need to improve the treatment and aftercare of the patients concerned. 

Unfortunately, diabetes is the most frequent cause of leg and foot amputations throughout the UK. Statistics show that adults living with the condition are twenty times more likely to need a limb amputated than someone without it. Localised infections and unhealed ulcers are common precursors to amputation operations; notably, diabetic foot ulcers are the leading cause of more than four cases out of five. Incidences are on the rise, too. During the three years between 2015 and 2018, NHS surgical teams amputated 27,465 lower limbs, an increase of more than 18 per cent in comparison to the previous three-year period, i.e., 2011 to 2014. 

Campaigning for Patients

Perhaps exasperatingly for some individuals affected, Diabetes UK considered that the increase in amputations stemmed from piecemeal approaches prevalent in a large proportion of NHS hospitals. Just one in six facilities had specialist and multidisciplinary foot care teams, capable of delivering a relatively seamless and proactive service from the patients’ point of view. In contrast to this relatively high standard of care, as a spokesperson from the charity pointed out, a somewhat haphazard approach seemed to exist in five out of six English hospitals, with little integration between physicians and nurses. In other words, most of them did not treat patients with diabetes and foot problems in a suitably proactive way.

Speaking on behalf of the charity, Dan Howarth, Head of Care, highlighted the need for multidisciplinary specialist foot care departments in every hospital across Britain. As well as securing significant improvements in the prognosis for people with diabetes, positive outcomes would cost the NHS less over the long term. 

Mr Howarth went on to detail the variations in standards of treatment between different areas. Furthermore, regardless of whether classified major or minor, amputations were devastating for patients, changed their lives and, sadly, were sometimes avoidable with better quality care. He highlighted that even what fell into the category of a minor amputation could still involve the loss of a whole foot. To reverse the recent upward trend, he called for NHS England to commit to ensuring that people with diabetes had access to the specialist treatment that was necessary.

NHS Advice

Finally, if you have noticed pain or numbness in your feet or hands, or that cuts and bruises have been slow to heal, we advise you to consult your doctor.