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Complications 'unacceptably high', finds diabetes audit

Hospitals are letting the blood sugar of one in five patients with diabetes fall alarmingly low, new figures suggest.

More than a fifth (22%) of diabetes patients in hospitals have experienced a potentially avoidable hypoglycaemic episode while being cared for in hospital, according to the latest report from the national National Diabetes Inpatient Audit.

“Preventable cases of blood glucose falling too low are happening in frightening numbers”

Barbara Young

The audit found one in 50 of these patients was subsequently considered a medical emergency as a result of their blood glucose falling so low.

Audit lead clinician Dr Gerry Rayman said: “The number of patients developing this largely preventable complication remains unacceptably high.”

The review was conducted on 14,000 patients across 142 NHS trusts in England and six health boards in Wales.

Other key findings from the report were that over a third of inpatients (37.5%) who should have been referred to a hospital diabetes team did not see a diabetes specialist and almost one third (31.7%) of sites in the audit had no diabetes inpatient specialist nurses.

The charity Diabetes UK, which collaborated on the audit, said patients should expect safe care.

Dame Barbara Young, chief executive of the charity, said: “It is greatly concerning that one in five patients experience low blood glucose during their stay. But what is really shocking is that one in 50 inpatients with diabetes have their blood glucose falls so low that it becomes a medical emergency, which in some rare cases can lead to life-changing disability or death.

Barbara Young

“When you consider that almost one in six hospital inpatients has diabetes, this means that preventable cases of blood glucose falling too low are happening in frightening numbers,” she said.

“While many hospitals have done great work over the last couple of years in establishing diabetes specialist teams, protocols and education, this audit highlights that there is much more to be done,” added Dame Barbara.

“It shows that low blood glucose levels are just one of a number of things that go wrong in hospital healthcare,” she said. “For example, a third of inpatients with diabetes experience a medication error during their stay, while about one in 50 are not given enough insulin and so become life-threateningly ill.”

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