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Patients with diabetes are being urged to take up the offer of appointments and health checks as the NHS in the South West emerges from the covid pandemic.

Attendance dropped sharply during lockdown, posing an increased risk of serious complications that can damage the feet, eyes, heart and kidneys.

While more people have been coming back since May, the NHS aims to get numbers to pre-pandemic levels by the autumn and to tackle the backlog.

The impact of lockdown was also reflected in a fall of up to a third in diabetes-related emergency admissions to hospital.

The decline in attendance happened despite work by the NHS to create covid ‘safe spaces’ within hospitals and across and at GP surgeries, which provide essential annual health checks to ensure that people get the care they need when diagnosed with diabetes.

Dr Richard Paisey, Diabetes Footcare Lead for the South West Cardiovascular, Respiratory and Diabetes Clinical Network, said:

“Troublesome effects of diabetes on the eyes, kidneys, feet and the heart can develop silently if early warnings are undetected if health checks are ignored.

“We have made careful arrangements to separate possible Covid-19 patients into safe areas which are separate from the business as usual hospital clinics.

“General practice doctors and nurses have worked extremely hard to keep in contact by telephone with patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes. They are very keen for patients not to delay referring themselves for help if they have worrying symptoms.

“Any face to face consultation required such as blood tests, blood pressure, foot examinations can be undertaken with strict precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

“These considerations are particularly important not only for persons living with diabetes, but also if new diabetes should develop. The onset of weight loss, thirst, passing too much urine and tiredness may well mean that an acute form of diabetes has developed.”

Dr Alex Bickerton, Consultant in Diabetes and Endocrinology at Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said:

“If you have diabetes, you can reduce your risk of serious illness due to covid-19 by ensuring that you have good blood-sugar control and are of a healthy weight. Your diabetes team can support you to achieve these goals and diabetes services are still ‘open for business’, albeit working in different ways to be as safe as possible under the current conditions. “It is vital that people with diabetes continue to access support, advice and treatment in the usual way via their GP, community diabetes service or hospital clinic.”

Diabetes test kit and insulin

People with diabetes can also help prevent complications by checking of feet daily, keeping to a healthy diet and trying to keep activeEye screening is still going ahead in some circumstances and for some people who are at higher risk of problems, such as pregnant women.

Everyone with diabetes should also be invited for a free flu vaccination at their GP surgery this autumn.