Rapidly increasing numbers of people are being diagnosed with diabetes in the UK.

The number of people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK has more than doubled over the past two decades. More than 4.6 million people now live with the disease.

There are currently around 3.7 million people who have received a diabetes diagnosis. The NHS predicts that figure could reach 5 million by 2025 unless preventative action is taken.

If you’re an employer, it’s a disease you really cannot ignore. There are questions you might ask of yourself.

Are you meeting your legal obligations towards people with diabetes?

Do you support employees who have been diagnosed with this chronic health condition?

Can you help staff at risk of developing this metabolic disorder?

What is diabetes?

A chronic metabolic condition, diabetes takes two forms.

Type 1 diabetes (or insulin dependent diabetes), which accounts for around 10% of all cases, occurs when the pancreas fails to produce the hormone, insulin. Insulin enables the glucose in blood to enter cells and provide the body with energy. Without insulin our blood becomes too high in glucose.

The cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown.

With Type 2 diabetes, the body either cannot produce enough insulin or cannot properly process it.  This can put strain on the pancreas as in response it works to produce more of the hormone.

Whilst the cause of type 2 diabetes is unknown, lifestyle is thought to be a contributory factor. In particular those who are overweight and fail to exercise regularly are considered to be at higher risk.

Recognising diabetes

People with diabetes may:

  • Suffer fatigue.
  • Need to urinate more frequently.
  • Have increased thirst and/or hunger.
  • Find sores and cuts take longer to heal.
  • Be more susceptible to certain infections.

 

Diabetes can cause hypoglycaemic episodes, also known as hypos. This is when blood sugar levels reach critically low levels. Symptoms include sweating, trembling, anxiety, palpitations, increased heart rate and dizziness. If untreated episodes can escalate to hypoglycaemic shock and cause loss of consciousness, seizures or coma.

Longer term diabetes can cause a range of complications. These can include loss of vision, cardiovascular issues (eg heart attack, stroke) kidney problems and nerve damage.

Diabetes and employment law

 

The Equality Act 2010 can offer protection to employees with diabetes. This is because the condition is life-long and can be treated in law as a disability.

This means that you may need to make “reasonable adjustments” to ensure an employee does not suffer discrimination. In short, an employer must not place someone with diabetes at a disadvantage in the work place.

 

 

In practice this might mean things like:

  • Allowing an employee to take breaks to test their blood glucose levels and eat.
  • Providing a suitable place for them to inject insulin.
  • Ensuring staff do not harass or abuse colleagues with diabetes.
  • Taking reasonable steps to accommodate sickness days caused by the condition.
  • Not disadvantaging employees with diabetes in bonus schemes (eg. by disallowing absence caused by their condition).

 

Of course this means that for you to prevent discrimination, your employee will need to let you know they have diabetes. Remember though that it is usually their choice to tell you, rather than for you to ask for medical disclosure.

If there are health and safety implications in relation to a role, you may though carry out an individual risk assessment which could cover the possible impact of diabetes or another disability.

You can find more information in the Employment and diabetes guide produced by Diabetes UK.

Supporting employees with or at risk of diabetes

There are a number of ways you can help employees manage their condition, or to prevent onset of type 2 diabetes.

Some we have touched on already, such as facilitating blood testing and food breaks. Other practical steps you may take include:

  • Teaching colleagues how to recognise and treat the symptoms of a hypo.
  • Ensuring nominated first aiders are aware of employees diagnosed with diabetes and treatment required in an emergency.

 

Arguably one of the best things you can do as an employer is help prevent those at risk from developing diabetes.

 

You can do this by providing access to expert advice and incentives for them to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Many company medical insurance schemes and employee assistance programmes (EAPs) offer this kind of support.

Depending on the policy chosen, these can offer access to benefits such as:

  • Around-the-clock access to professional health and lifestyle advice, by telephone or online.
  • Health screenings.
  • Complimentary exercise monitoring devices such as Fitbits.
  • Discounted gym memberships.

Diabetes Week

Diabetes Week is an annual campaign run by the charity Diabetes UK. Designed to raise awareness about the condition, it also aims to encourage people to talk about their diabetes. Getting those conversations started fosters better understanding of the risk factors, symptoms and things people can do to support people living with diabetes.

 

 

Want to learn more about how company medical insurance or an employee assistance programme could help you run a healthier business? Call 01254 504910 to arrange a free consultation.

 

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