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Nurse shortages “endanger children with diabetes”

18 February 2009

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Children with diabetes are at increased risk of severe hypoglycaemic episodes and long-term complications such as blindness, kidney failure or amputations because paediatric diabetes specialist nurses (PDSNs) are severely overstretched, according to a report by health charity Diabetes UK.

The report on the progress of primary care organisations in 2008 shows that some PDSNs in PCTs in England look after more than 150 children, compared to the recommended 70.

It says such a large case load does not allow nurses the necessary time to help children manage their diabetes and give them individual advice and support.

The report also shows that the PDSN caseload in 35% of PCTs has increased since 2007, and less than 7% of PCTs have improved their PDSN caseload. This is despite the fact that more than 80% of children with diabetes are not achieving recommended blood glucose levels – the cornerstone of good diabetes management.

Douglas Smallwood, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, said: “This situation needs to be addressed urgently. Specialist nurses play a vital role in diabetes care and management.

“With many nurses having to cope with more than twice the recommended number of children, it is no wonder four out of five children have poor blood glucose control. Services must improve now, otherwise our children risk developing serious, long-term complications of diabetes such as losing their sight or needing kidney dialysis in later life.

“The government promised six years ago to improve specialist care and ensure a healthy future for all children with diabetes, but standards remain patchy. It’s high time they delivered on their promise.”

Around 25,000 children and young people under the age of 25 have type 1 diabetes in the UK, and it is estimated that in addition around 1,400 children and young people in the UK have type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes UK