Diabetes is a growing problem in the UK and employers are advised to develop a support strategy for sufferers among their workforce.
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- Five million people in the UK are expected to be diagnosed with diabetes by 2025.
- Diabetes can cause eyesight, circulation and kidney problems.
- Employers can support sufferers with benefi ts such as health awareness days and health risk assessments.
Five million people in the UK are expected to be diagnosed with diabetes by 2025, according to the Association of Public Health Observatories.
An estimated 2.9 million have already been diagnosed with the condition. Most of them have Type 2 diabetes, which is attributed to the UK’s ageing population and an increase in obesity. These issues are expected to worsen over time, which is why employers need to consider how they can support affected employees.
Unmanaged diabetes can harm an employee’s life, leading to health complications that can include eyesight, circulation and kidney problems.
Dr Wolfgang Seidl, head of health management consulting, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Mercer Marsh Benefits, says: “Diabetes is potentially a very harmful disease, but it can be managed well if it is diagnosed and the right treatment chosen.”
Employers can offer a range of support to employees, who typically fall into three categories: those who have been diagnosed; the large number of people who are thought to be pre-diabetic, a metabolic condition that can be a precursor to Type 2 diabetes; and those who have diabetes but are undiagnosed.
Health awareness days
Health awareness days and health risk assessments are two of the most helpful benefits employers can offer employees to highlight diabetes.
Seidl says: “Many employers have health and wellbeing days or health risk assessments in their workplace, and that is a great way of helping somebody find out if they have a problem, and then, through the right clinical pathway, helping them to get the right treatment. That is quite a small thing an organisation can do with a huge impact.”
But Chris Tomkins, head of personal health risk management, health services, at Axa PPP Healthcare, says a cultural change among employers is needed before any support initiative. “This is not something that can be solved by drugs alone,” he says. “It is not only the National Health Service’s problem, it is very much the employer’s problem.
“Creating an environment in which health and wellbeing and a healthy lifestyle is supported within the workplace will have great benefits for individuals with Type 2 diabetes, but also great benefits across the whole population.”
Chronic health problems
As with other long-term conditions, diabetes brings risks of developing other chronic health problems, says Andy Bell, deputy chief executive at the Centre for Mental Health.
“People who have a long-term physical health condition are more than twice as likely to have a mental health problem as the general population,” he says.
“There are over 4.6 million people with a long-term physical health condition and a comorbid mental health problem.
Their managers need to be aware of the risk of depression for those who are managing a long-term condition such as diabetes.” In fact, diagnosing an individual with a chronic condition, such as diabetes, can trigger the development of a mental health condition, such as depression, because of the feelings of vulnerability and fragility that may develop.
Seidl explains: “It is not something people want to find out, that they have a chronic disease they may have to manage for the rest of their life. If people then fall into some sort of low mood, they would be even less likely to manage what they need to accurately.”
Tomkins urges employers to highlight conditions such as diabetes to employees and communicate how they can access appropriate and effective support and treatment. “You need a depth of support and intervention,” he says. “The depth of support and intervention escalates as the risk and the impact on the individual escalates, because that way, employers get a good return on investment.”