People with diabetes have been ‘forgotten’ amid imminent easing of lockdown according to Diabetes UK. They say that steps to ease lockdown and reopen the UK risk leaving millions of people with diabetes in the dark about how best to keep themselves safe.
Last week announcements from the UK Government laid out plans to ease shielding measures, and to revise social distancing rules in England in an attempt to get the UK reopened following lockdown. But Diabetes UK is warning that not enough is being done to keep people with diabetes – and those with other long term conditions – safe, and that the guidance for clinically vulnerable people, and employers, remains unclear.
Supported by an open letter signed by more than 12,000 people living with and affected by diabetes, the charity is therefore today calling on the UK Government to urgently respond to its concerns, and be explicit in its commitment to protecting clinically vulnerable people as the UK begins to reopen.
This is backed up by new analysis from Diabetes UK, which shows that two thirds (64%) of the public agree that all UK Governments need to be doing more to ensure people with underlying health conditions are kept safe at work during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic – this rises to three quarters (75%) among 55+ year olds.
Diabetes UK has been vocal in its concerns that the Government’s employment guidance still does not go far enough to ensure safety at work for people with diabetes, and those in other clinically vulnerable groups. However, despite writing directly to Alok Sharma three months ago and repeatedly pressing Government on these concerns, the charity is yet to receive any response from Government to acknowledge or confirm any action will be taken to make the guidance – and its enforcement – more robust.
Chris Askew, Chief Executive at Diabetes UK, said: “The message from people with diabetes is clear; we want to go about our lives, but we’re deeply worried about our health as lockdown eases, and we want to know we’re going to be protected.
“But what is also clear is that – with the next stage of the re-opening of the UK imminent – the needs of people with diabetes are not being properly considered. People with long term conditions cannot, and should never have been the Government’s blind spot. Lives are at stake.
“We reiterate our calls, which we have been doing for weeks, to ensure that people with diabetes are not forgotten, and that additional measures and safeguards are in place – and enforced – to keep them safe.”
Diabetes UK has been hearing from thousands of people with diabetes who are increasingly worried about the risk to their health – or income – posed by returning to work during the pandemic. Many are having to weigh up decisions about working in an unsafe environment, or give up their income altogether.
It is important that people with diabetes who want to get back to work, are able to do it safely. But currently, without robust guidance, employers can continue to decide their own ‘acceptable risk’ with no safeguards for individual staff, or consequences for non-compliance. The evidence shows that social distancing is key to keeping people safe, but the new rules changing this to 1m+ is pushing people to their breaking point.
The survey further revealed that as people with diabetes are at an increased risk of poorer outcomes, only 1 in 5 of the people would feel comfortable with them going to work in a workplace where social distancing is not possible.
The 3.9 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK are identified in the Government’s list of clinically vulnerable groups, and the advice from the 4 July is that people with diabetes should take particular care to minimise contact with others outside their household and to be especially careful and be diligent about social distancing and hand hygiene.
Diabetes UK has delivered a letter to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with over 12,200 signatures, urgently calling for more robust protections for clinically vulnerable workers and greater clarity for both employees and employers. They are specifically calling for:
- The development of the national COVID-19 risk prediction tool to be fast-tracked, making it possible to assess a person’s individual risk based on different factors (such as age, sex, ethnicity, health condition etc) as soon as possible. They are also calling for a robust process to be put in place to ensure that the advice a person is offered from the use of this tool will inform decisions about their own safety in their workplace.
- Until then, people who are vulnerable to serious harm, including those with diabetes, should have a right to stay working at home at this time.
- If an employer cannot facilitate this and the employee still has concerns, they should have access to fair remuneration such as the option to be furloughed through an extension of the Government’s job retention scheme for those who are vulnerable from serious harm from Coronavirus. People who are at risk of serious harm should not have to decide between their health or financial security.
- There must be robust enforcement of guidance on employment protections for clinically vulnerable people and workplace COVID-19 risk assessments which specifically address their safety.
- There must be effective and proactive communication of these measures so that people with diabetes know their rights.