There are over 3m people who have been diagnosed with diabetes and there are a large number of people who are undiagnosed.
One major complication that people with diabetes often develop is foot problems, which are often exacerbated in the workplace. Raised blood sugar levels can cause problems with circulation and sensation. If untreated, this can lead to foot ulcers, infections and potentially far more serious consequences.
There are more than 20 amputations a day in the UK as a result of complications caused by diabetes. This often means that someone is no longer able to drive or work. Tragically, if you have a limb amputated as a result of diabetes you are 80 per cent more likely to die in the following five years.
Prevention better than cure
Some simple actions taken at home and at work can dramatically reduce the likelihood of developing serious foot problems. It is for this reason that Diabetes UK are promoting May as national foot care month, in order to reinforce the message that prevention is far better than cure.
At work you can reduce your risk of diabetes related foot problems by following some sensible rules.
Making sure your shoes and socks fit is really important. If you wear special shoes or boots at work then it is essential they fit properly. If your boots are supplied by work and are too tight or too loose don’t wear them and get them changed. If you don’t feel you are getting the right support from your employer, speak to your Unite health and safety representative.
When you are putting on your boots for work or just before bed, have a quick check of your feet every day. If you notice any changes, no matter how small, tell your doctor.
Most importantly, if you lose any feeling in your toes or feet then you need to urgently speak to your diabetes nurse or doctor.
Attending your annual foot care clinic is an important preventative measure, as is quitting smoking.
Smoking makes it harder for blood to travel around the body so this puts you at greater risk of foot problems. Your doctor or diabetes nurse will provide assistance if you want to quit.
Terrible pins and needles
The importance of foot care at work is borne out by the experience of Unite member Stephen Wakefield who worked in a factory in Wales.
Stephen eventually left his position due to “terrible pins and needles in his feet” which gave him “sleepless nights”.
His problems became too much despite assistance from his employer who provided special boots, although he felt that shift working made it more difficult to control his blood sugar levels.
Stephen also said that he found it “embarrassing” to take pin prick blood sugar tests while at work.
Margo* is a Unite member who works in the health service. As a result of her diabetes her feet swell up so dramatically that she can sometimes not put her shoes on. She belongs to the critical foot clinic and her feet are examined more regularly, than the annual check-up most diabetics receive.
She also carries a shoe bag with her at work and changes her shoes during the day.
Margot underwent an access to work assessment which recommended that she needed a foot stool, as “without the stool my feet swell up.”
This recommendation was made in September 2014 but Margot did not receive the foot stool for some time and was forced to “take in my own foot stool” — the one that work was meant to supply did not arrive until 2016.
While Diabetes UK is focusing on foot care there is also growing concern about the number of people who have undiagnosed diabetes.
Last year one of these was Unite staff member Amanda Cass. She had been suffering from extreme thirst, blurred vision, weight loss, tiredness and lethargy and a urinary infection, for about a month and had also experienced “tingling and pain” in the left hand side of her body including her feet.
Amanda admits “she was in denial” and despite having googled her symptoms did not immediately seek medical support.
When she eventually went to the doctors she had a blood test in the morning and that afternoon she was immediately sent to A&E and placed on a drip.
Following her own experience Amanda’s advice is “don’t ignore symptoms get to the doctor”.
Since being diagnosed Amanda has received a great deal of support and advice and has significantly reduced her blood sugar levels and her condition is now under control.
Additional information on foot care can be found here.
For further information on diabetes risk factors click here.