Diabetes rates increasing across ELL boroughs as Covid impacts on sufferers

Glucose testing kit. Pic: Mykenzie Johnson, Unsplash media.

GPs and support groups have highlighted the issues faced by diabetics during the pandemic, as figures released by Diabetes UK to coincide with World Diabetes Day this weekend show that diagnoses of the disease are increasing in all of the Eastlondonlines boroughs.

The charity found 23,348 people are living with diabetes in Croydon, 7.14 percent of the borough’s population. This represents an increase of 6.12 percent since 2018. Tower Hamlets is not far behind, with 6.65 percent of its population diagnosed – an increase of 6.42 percent from 2019, when the borough had the second highest rate of diabetes in London.

In Lewisham, diabetes affects 17,099 people, an increase from the 15,000 cases recorded last year, while City & Hackney have the lowest amount, with 15,229 people diagnosed, or 5.9 percent of the population.

The increase is a particular worry this year because diabetics “have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19,” Diabetes UK said in a statement. “Around a third of those dying in England from Covid-19 had diabetes, and the relentlessness of managing diabetes has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Dr. Osman Bhatti, the Chief Clinical Information Officer for the East London Health and Care Partnership told ELL: “All long-term conditions – including diabetes, hypertension, etc. suffered from patients not being able to get their blood tests or reviews done due to COVID and these having been postponed.”

Healthwatch Croydon found that some diabetics in the borough struggled to access vital podiatry check-ups as well as diabetic-friendly food during the pandemic. Other residents could not get access to food deliveries because they were not deemed vulnerable people by the government.

BME diabetics

Gifty Nmaju, operations and finance manager of Croydon BME Forum and chairman of the Diabetes UK Croydon group told ELL that BME diabetics have faced particular struggles in the borough.

“For the past two years Croydon BME forum, in partnership with Diabetes UK Croydon, has run a successful walking group. But during the first lockdown we were not able to meet. The group carried on with online yoga, but this is not the same as meeting each other. Some people experiencing loneliness are getting through their hoarded tins of comfort foods and are struggling with a restrictive diet.”

But efforts have been made since the first lockdown to ensure diabetics receive better care under the new restrictions. Bhatti added: “Tower Hamlets – as it always does – is leading the charge to get patients reviewed as soon as possible.

“There have been hiccups, e.g. when the local lab ran out of reagents to do blood tests, but this is now back up and running. Patients are having their reviews again and we are being more efficient in getting them in for all their checks, such as diabetes foot checks, blood pressure, blood test[s], urine tests and then following up on the phone.”

Positive developments

Nmaju said there have also been some positive developments since the start of lockdown: “Since our normal diabetic support and exercise groups can’t meet physically, we are meeting on Zoom and having good quality presentations by local clinicians or Diabetes UK speakers followed by discussions with our lively members.”

Local groups in both boroughs are also continuing to raise awareness about the disease and offer support to their diabetic residents during what has been a difficult year for them.

Laura Dickens, co-organiser of Tower Hamlets Diabetes Community Support Group. Pic: Diabetes UK London.

Tower Hamlets: A new support group for diabetics was launched last week in Tower Hamlets. Co-founder Laura Dickens, 30, from Bromley-By-Bow was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 4 years old. “I want to build a diabetes community to reduce loneliness and the feeling of isolation amongst those living with diabetes in Tower Hamlets – particularly during Covid-19,” she said.

Roz Rosenblatt, Head of London for Diabetes UK, said in the charity’s media release: “Local groups such as the new Tower Hamlets group are a good place for moral support and can help people find a balance between living their lives and keeping in good health.”

She also added: “In a year that’s been tough for all of us, this World Diabetes Day we’re encouraging our community to show the big difference we can make when we come together.”

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