Diabetes treatment now costs the NHS £1.1bn, the highest bill ever

Diabetes treatment now costs the NHS £1.1bn, the highest bill ever

Fat Britain sends NHS bill sky high: Diabetes treatment now costs £1.1bn, the highest ever, amid fears soaring obesity rates will only make it worse

  • The cost of diabetes medications to NHS England rose by £60million in a year
  • Its prescribing bill is the highest of any illness – 4.7million have the conditions
  • Drugs used to lower blood sugar are twice as expensive as 10 years ago 

Prescription medicines for diabetes now cost NHS England more than ever, figures have today revealed. 

The £1.075billion forked out last year on drugs for the condition is almost double the £650million bill from a decade ago.

Diabetes is the most expensive condition the NHS has to treat, partly because at least 4.7million people in the UK – approximately one in every 14 – have it.

The costs are spread across insulin, diagnostic devices and blood sugar monitors, antidiabetic drugs and medications to treat people with hypoglycaemia.

And the true cost of the condition is far higher because diabetes causes numerous other conditions, with many patients suffering strokes or needing amputations.

Experts have blamed the country’s expanding waistlines and unhealthy lifestyles for an epidemic of type 2 diabetes, which is preventable.

The health service last year spent almost £1.1billion on prescriptions for insulin, antidiabetic medications and treatment of hypoglycaemia – its highest diabetes bill ever (stock image)

The medications which have triggered the biggest rise in cost are antidiabetic drugs – oral medicines used to lower blood sugar.

These cost NHS England more than twice as much as they did in 2008/09, with the cost rising from £168million to £540million in 2018/19.

Insulin, meanwhile, only costs 22.5 per cent more than it did a decade ago. The cost of the hormone has risen from £288m to £353m. 

When the NHS breached the £1billion spending barrier for the first time ever last year, one charity boss said diabetes was the UK’s biggest health threat.

Growing numbers of overweight and obese people are contributing to the rise in diabetes.

Some 90 per cent of diabetes cases are type 2, which can be triggered by obesity, eating too much sugar, and not doing enough exercise.

The combination of these factors means the body is taking in high levels of sugar – which is used as energy for muscles – but cannot use it because people don’t move enough. 

When the body has more sugar than it can handle it produces signals which reduce how much of it is absorbed from the blood, which can lead to insulin resistance – a diabetes trigger.

People in the UK are getting fatter than ever – data from October revealed 4.2 per cent of 10 to 11-year-old children are severely obese.

And nearly 200,000 children of the same age are classed as overweight.

Among adults, at least a quarter of them are classed as obese and last year’s figures recorded 62 per cent of adults as overweight, making the UK the fattest nation in Western Europe.

And as the country’s waistline has been rising, so too have cases of diabetes – the number of people officially diagnosed has risen by 36 per cent since 2010 to almost 3.7million. 

Diabetes UK’s head of policy, Robin Hewings, said: ‘The number of people diagnosed with the condition has doubled in the last 20 years, and it is responsible for 26,000 early deaths per year alongside serious complications such as blindness, amputation or stroke.’

Patients cost the NHS, on average, £327.78 each last year, but individual costs varied across the country.

In Northumberland, for example, patients cost an average of £208.07 for the year, while in Cornwall the average cost was £587.12.

Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for nine in 10 cases of the condition, can be triggered by obesity and inactive lifestyles, which are rising fast.

Around a quarter of British adults are now obese, as well as 20 per cent of 10 to 11-year-old children.

In diabetic people the body cannot properly regulate how much sugar is absorbed from food, putting people at risk of nerve damage, high blood pressure and even stroke or comas.

So patients have to take medication to properly regulate the levels of sugar in their body, and some have to inject extra insulin.

The statistics come after recent damning reports which revealed the staggering scale of how many NHS resources are used treating diabetic patients.

Whether they need help specifically for diabetes or have it as a secondary illness, people with the conditions make up one in 10 of all hospital visits.

There are 5,000 diabetic patients seeking healthcare every day and experts predict that, by 2030, a quarter of all hospital inpatients will have one of the conditions.

In a report released earlier this year, the charity Diabetes UK blames a ‘dramatic rise in obesity rates’ for rising type 2 diagnoses.


(Per person average, 2018/19)


(Per person average, 2018/19)

And Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, told MailOnline in September: ‘The fact of the matter is diabetes is increasing year-on-year, which is down essentially to the fact that the Government has not done anything to mitigate obesity, which is the major cause of diabetes. 90 per cent of diabetics have got obesity.’ 

Today’s figures showed that five per cent of all drugs prescribed were given to treat diabetes.

And these made up for 12.5 per cent of all the money spent on prescriptions – a total of £8.63billion.


Type 2 diabetes is a condition which causes a person’s blood sugar to get too high.

At least 4.7million people in the UK are thought to have some form of diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight and you may be more likely to get it if it’s in the family.

The condition means the body does not react properly to insulin – the hormone which controls absorption of sugar into the blood – and cannot properly regulate sugar glucose levels in the blood.

Excess fat in the liver increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as the buildup makes it harder to control glucose levels, and also makes the body more resistant to insulin. 

Weight loss is the key to reducing liver fat and getting symptoms under control.

Symptoms include tiredness, feeling thirsty, and frequent urination.

It can lead to more serious problems with nerves, vision and the heart.

Treatment usually involves changing your diet and lifestyle, but more serious cases may require medication.

Source: NHS Choices; Diabetes.co.uk

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