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Jim Shannon MP

Jim Shannon is the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP for Strangford. He is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes and has type 2 diabetes.

"It is always a pleasure, Dr McCrea, to speak about diabetes. I am a type 2 diabetic, so the matter is important to me. I congratulate the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) on securing the debate. I know of his passion for the subject, and it is always good to participate in a debate initiated by him. I hope that others will contribute and help him to pursue his ideas. I am fully behind the Melbourne declaration on diabetes. I am delighted at the attention the illness is receiving, and I look forward to great steps being taken to curb the effect of diabetes in our country and the world.

Diabetes worldwide

"Many people have referred to diabetes as a ticking time bomb. We focus on many diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, in that way. Diabetes is a ticking time bomb because of the numbers of people who have it and do not know, or who will potentially be diabetic in the near future. As I am sure that we are all very aware, it is estimated that there are 382 million people worldwide with diabetes, most of whom are aged between 40 and 59. Again, that middle-aged group is where the focus seems to be, and their number is expected to rise to 592 million by 2035. For one second, consider again that the figure will rise from 382 million to 592 million by 2035—another 200 million people will be diabetics by that time.

"In 2013, diabetes caused 5.1 million deaths, which is one every six seconds. That is the magnitude of the issue of diabetes and what it is doing and has the potential to do. In world monetary terms, diabetes is taking up some $548 billion in health spending in 2013, right across the world. That is 11% of worldwide expenditure. Those figures get into what it means to be diabetic, and why the condition is a ticking time bomb not only for the United Kingdom, but for the world. The statistics are harrowing. It is an international problem. It is a disease that we are often too blasé about, and we must not let this dire situation continue. We must adequately assess the issue of diabetes and tackle the problem head-on.

Northern Ireland

"I want to mention our colleague, Edwin Poots, the Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland. He has initiated a programme to bring in 400 insulin pumps to help type 1 diabetics and their families. He has also initiated training along with that, so that people who have the pumps are adequately trained in administering the insulin, and in helping the control of diabetes. Good things have been done in Northern Ireland, but good things have been done in England as well. As the Minister will know, I ask all the time about a strategy, not only regionally, but for the whole United Kingdom.

Cost to NHS

"Obesity and diabetes-related illnesses combined cost the NHS an estimated £15 billion a year, and 80% of the available funding for diabetes is spent on treating preventable complications, because it is not diabetes that will eventually, to use strong terms, kill someone, but the complications. It can affect people’s kidneys, liver, circulation, heart and eyesight."

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): "While my hon. Friend is on the issue of the cost to the NHS and to all of us as taxpayers, does he agree that any additional resource that is deployed in early detection, and in trying to ensure greater awareness in communities across the UK, will vastly be outweighed by the savings, in terms of what the taxpayer would have to pay out otherwise? That has been outlined by both the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) and by my hon. Friend."

Jim Shannon: "I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for that comment. He is absolutely right, and I will come on to some issues that I feel the Government need to address early on. He is correct to say that vast savings will be made if there is early detection. The need for early detection was mentioned by the hon. Member for Torbay, and other Members will make the same comment.

"Although it is great that money is available to treat this illness, we must not merely chase after it, putting a plaster on it after it has inflicted damage. That is clear. We need to ensure that money is spent not only on treating it, but on prevention methods—which makes me wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) was looking over my shoulder at my notes, because he made the next point that I was coming to. We cannot allow ourselves to accept the fact that 3.2 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with diabetes. Again, that is the magnitude of the problem. We must look to the causes and stamp them out at the root.

Sugar in food

"One thing that we can address is the preventive measures that need to be taken. We have talked many times in the House about the sugar content in food. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who is not here today, introduced a measure, which I was happy to put my name to, addressing the issues of sugar in manufactured products that we eat (Labour MP Keith Vaz introducing his Food Labelling (Sugar Content) Bill in the Commons, from Wednesday 14 May 2014). We need to take that issue forward, and in the future, I hope we will be in a position to take legislation on that subject through the House with the support of food manufacturers, so that we can address the issue of the food we eat. We do not need all the sugar or salt that is in food. There is a way of addressing issues outside the Chamber—issues that are outside Government control—but something needs to be done at manufacturing level.

"Our annual intake of sugar is 33.7 kg per capita. To put that in perspective, it is equivalent to eating nearly 34 average-sized bags of sugar each year. Imagine if the sugar was piled up on the table here; it would block my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry from sight completely. That is how much sugar we are all eating every year, and some people even eat more. Surely when discussing the Melbourne declaration on diabetes, the Government need to take another look at sugar levels in our food. What steps are the Government taking on diabetes prevention to ensure that the next generation is not blighted by diabetes in the way that this one is? Projections show that if current trends continue, in 2025, 5 million people in the UK will have diabetes. Again, the magnitude of the issue is clear, so what are the Government doing to ensure that that does not happen? What preventive measures are they putting in place to decrease that number?

Weight and diabetes

"The correlation between weight and diabetes has been made clear: 80% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. The Government need to do more to increase education on the danger of being overweight or obese and tighten controls on how much sugar goes into our food. Those are all issues that I feel we need to take on board.

"What is so frustrating is that up to 80% of type 2 diabetes could be delayed or prevented. I am not saying that in any judgmental way, because many in the Chamber will be aware that I am a type 2 diabetic, as I declared at the beginning of my speech. The truth of the matter is that I have to blame myself and my lifestyle choices for the onset of the disease. It was the Chinese carry-out five nights a week, with two bottles of Coke—not a good diet for anybody. That is the reason why I was almost 18 stone and had to lose weight very quickly. Aside from that, it was also a lifestyle with high levels of stress. When the two are combined, diabetes will knock on the door of nearly everybody, as most of us know.

Stress and diabetes

"While I am on the subject, many people can be diabetic even though they are not necessarily overweight. It can happen through them having a stressful lifestyle. How many others living the same lifestyle are not aware of the damage that they are doing to their bodies in the long term, and how can we do better in highlighting that? I have to take two Metformin tablets in the morning and two at night. That dosage could have to be increased; a doctor could come along, as he often does, and say “By the way, you just need a wee blood pressure tablet now to keep you right as well.” People wonder just how many tablets they will have to take before they reach the age of 65 and retire, if they are spared until that age.

Diagnosis and management

"What are the Government doing to diagnose diabetes early and treat it effectively, preventing or delaying the complications that cause so much human suffering, require costly treatment, and reduce life expectancy? Only one in 10 people who are newly diagnosed with diabetes are offered education on how to manage their condition, despite strong evidence that education is a cost-effective way of giving people the knowledge that they need to manage their condition. On managing diabetes, after someone is diagnosed as diabetic, what help is given to them to ensure that they manage that in a sensible way? I accept that the person also needs to acknowledge that they have to manage the condition. I remember Dr Mageean, my doctor, telling me when I was first diagnosed, “Jim, it is up to you what you do.” He was very clear and said, “You must manage this yourself,” but at the same time, I think we need a wee bit of help, perhaps from Government and from the health service in particular, just to ensure that we know what that all means for everyone involved.

"It is estimated that in my small Province of Northern Ireland, 80,000 people have diabetes. That awful statistic worries me very much."

Adrian Sanders: "The point about education is interesting. According to the National Audit Office, the estimated amount that the NHS could save annually through people better understanding and managing diabetes is £170 million (National Audit Office Report: The management of adult diabetes services in the NHS PDF: 733KB). That is just from improved awareness and education."

Jim Shannon: "I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. That reinforces the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry and by me: prevention saves money for the NHS. I accept that the Minister’s budget is restricted, and that we cannot spend outside of that, but if there are ways and means of reducing the money that is spent and ensuring that we can still deliver the NHS that we are all very proud of, we should try to do that as well.

UK-wide strategy

"On 12 February 2014, I asked the Minister what discussions had been had with the Health Minister in Northern Ireland on UK-wide strategies for diabetes, obesity, heart disease and rare diseases. The Minister said that there had been no discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive on those issues. I am asking that question again, as she is here. I respect her greatly—she knows that—and I value the work that she carries out in this place, but I honestly believe that a UK-wide strategy is needed. We had one until 2013, but then it was not carried on. I believe that it would be to the benefit of all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland if that UK-wide strategy was started again, so I ask the question again.

"There is cross-House approval of and support for the Melbourne declaration on diabetes, which pushed for an international effort in the fight against diabetes, and that is what this is all about. Are the Government willing to work with the devolved Administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to use resources wisely and create a UK-wide strategy against diabetes? They have done it before; let us do it again, and do it even better this time.

"The director of Diabetes UK Northern Ireland, Iain Foster, has said: “We are in the middle of a diabetes epidemic…With the numbers rapidly increasing it is now more important than ever that everything is done to prevent serious complications which cost the NHS millions”— as the hon. Member for Torbay said—“and are absolutely devastating for the individuals and families involved.” Let us never forget that it is not just those with diabetes but the families around them who are affected by the debilitating effects of diabetes on the individual.

Health check implementation

"Will the Government commit to implementing fully the NHS health check, which should be offered to everyone aged 40 to 74, to help identify people at high risk of type 2 diabetes? I say with respect that that programme has been patchily introduced so far, so there could be a lot of improvement. The Government need to do more to ensure that those at high risk benefit from lifestyle interventions to help to prevent the disease. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recommended increasing the proportion of people with diabetes who get the nine annual checks. That should happen as a matter of course when people are in their GP surgery, or in hospital for whatever reason.

"Those checks help people to manage their condition and to identify any signs of complications early. However, there is a large geographical variation in the proportion of people getting them. Again, if we had a UK-wide strategy, we could ensure that there were no differences geographically in who gets the nine annual checks and who does not. Will the Government commit to increasing the number of people who receive the checks? That is a positive way forward. It is another way of doing the preventive work that we need, and will ultimately lead to the savings that we need.

"In 1922, insulin was discovered by John Macleod, Dr Banting and Charles Best, yet 92 years later, in 2014, we are still fighting against the dreadful disease of diabetes. In the UK this year, 59,000 people will die unnecessarily from diabetes. I strongly urge the Government, in the wake of the Melbourne declaration on diabetes, to take serious strides in the UK in preventing and controlling diabetes.

Next: Shadow Health Minister Jamie Reed MP's contribution to the debate

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