Saturday 14 November is World Diabetes Day. Diabetes is a common lifelong condition that currently affects almost 4m people in the UK.
People living with diabetes may have to deal with a number of complications as a result of their condition. These can include heart and kidney disease, as well as conditions that affect the eyes and feet.
Foot-related complications are extremely common for diabetics as high levels of glucose in the blood can damage blood vessels supplying the nerves, reducing the amount of blood supply to the feet. This is known as ‘peripheral neuropathy.’
If the nerves in the legs and feet become damaged, numbness can occur. This can mean that any injuries to the feet fail to heal well and people with diabetes may not notice if their feet are sore, injured or infected. Something as minor as a cut, burn, blister or foot ulcer can, if left untreated, easily develop into a serious infection that can then lead to the threat of amputation.
Diabetes is one of the leading causes of amputation of the toes, feet and lower limbs throughout the world and diabetics are 15 times more likely to have to undergo an amputation than people without the condition. Indeed, according to Public Health England data released earlier this year, more than 130 patients are undergoing amputations every week due to diabetes.
Diabetes UK states that foot problems are the most frequent reasons cited for diabetic patients having to attend hospital. Many of these visits are entirely preventable. It is relatively common for diabetics not to notice problems with their feet until issues develop and become more serious. Foot care is therefore incredibly important and it is vital that those with diabetes include regular foot check-ups as part of their regular care regime.
One unusual diabetes-related complication our clinical negligence solicitors have dealt with is a type of bone deformity known as ‘Charcot Foot’ which occurs when a person suffers from particularly bad neuropathy. Loss of sensation in the feet can affect balance and when sufferers continue to walk off balance in an unnatural way without being able to feel any resulting pain, it can lead to visible deformations in the bones of the feet.
Although NICE guidelines require GPs who encounter diabetic patients with foot problems such as swelling, discolouration or ulcers, to refer them urgently to specialist foot clinics, our solicitors continue to handle a large number of clinical negligence claims involving catastrophic delays in diagnosis because doctors have failed to recognise symptoms.
It is crucial that GPs, orthopaedic surgeons, general physicians and specialists in diabetes are aware of the importance of recognising such conditions as early as possible as any delay in diagnosing Charcot Foot can lead to permanent disability or in some cases, amputation.
The rising number of people being diagnosed with diabetes is set to cost the NHS nearly £17bn within a generation. With this in mind, the associated health problems linked to the number of people having to undergo treatment for diabetes-related complications such as Charcot Foot are likely to become increasingly significant.
Paul Sankey is a senior clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
If you or a loved one have suffered an amputation from a delay in managing your foot ulcer due to clinical or medical negligence, call us for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.