Diabetes — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings 9:30 am, 9th January 2019

My right hon. Friend makes a very shrewd point about cause and effect. In Scotland, for example, both the processes leading to allocation and the actual allocation of technology are much more routine, as he suggests should be the case. I hope the Minister will tell us today or subsequently how he will ensure that that becomes true for the whole of our kingdom—that the very principles set out by my right hon. Friend become embedded in the way in which we approach technology, ensuring that it is allocated according to need.

We all agree that the resources should be targeted to secure optimal outcomes for the 4.6 million people who have been diagnosed with the condition. In addition to those diagnosed, however, one in three adults in the UK have pre-diabetes and might be at risk of developing type 2 diabetes if they do not change their lifestyle—a point made by a number of Members in interventions. About three in five cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed. A focus on preventing the onset of diabetes should be of paramount importance. G. K. Chesterton said:

“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”

By seeing the problem, the solution will be implicit, because many more people will never develop type 2 diabetes if they make those adjustments to their lifestyle.

There is a dilemma, though: is it better that 50,000 people get a perfect solution and are prevented from having diabetes, or that 5 million people reduce their risk marginally? Let me set that out more clearly. Is it better that a small number of people achieve what the deputy leader of the Labour party, the hon. Member for West Bromwich East, has done—losing immense amounts of weight, changing their lifestyle and completely revising their diet? Or is it better that a very much larger number of people make a smaller change, lose less weight and change their lifestyle more marginally, but by so doing significantly reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

That is a challenge in health education; it affects many aspects of the health service’s work. It probably means that, rather than seeing this issue purely from a clinical perspective, we have to democratise the diabetes debate, spread the word much more widely and get many more people to lose a couple of inches off their waist, to lose a stone or half a stone. That effect would be immense in reducing the risk of diabetes, not for tens of thousands but for millions of people.

If the figures I have brought forward are so—I have cited them only because I have learnt them from Diabetes UK and others who have helped me to prepare for this debate—we would change the lives of very large numbers of constituents in a way they would be able to manage, understand, comprehend and act upon reasonably quickly. I want the Minister to reflect on the dilemma I have described; it may not be quite so much of an either/or as I have painted it, but we need a democratic debate about that, which is part of the reason I have brought this debate to the House. Certainly we need an open and grown-up conversation about some of those measures and how we go about tackling what I have described as a crisis.

I do not want to speak forever, Mr Robertson—I know you and others in the Chamber will be disappointed to hear me say that. That will cause disappointment and even alarm among some, but I want others to contribute the debate. However, I have a couple of other points to make so I will move on—having taken a number of interventions already, I hope colleagues will bear with me.

I have been fascinated to read about research funded by Diabetes UK that proves that remission is possible. I would like to take the time to congratulate the hon. Member for West Bromwich East once again and to say that I hope many more people will recognise that remission is a real possibility for them by making changes in what they do.

Part of the issue is how lives more generally have changed. My father cycled five miles to work and five miles home every day, but now most people do not do that. Once many more people worked in manual jobs—my father had a physique like Charles Atlas, but the nearest I have come to Charles Atlas is reading an atlas. Part of the problem is the way we live now; far fewer people exercise implicitly in the way he did, and it seems that junk food is more appealing to many people than eating fresh, healthy produce—indeed, that has been recognised by successive Governments as significant for health outcomes.

Evidence shows the best way to reduce the risk of diabetes is through a healthy diet, being physically active and reducing weight. That can be facilitated through societal approaches and targeted individual interventions. Technology, including digital services to support lifestyle changes, is increasingly critical in diabetes prevention. To be sustainable, methods to prevent type 2 diabetes should focus on individual behaviour change, not just short-term activity levels.

We recently learned that, by their 10th birthday, the average child in the UK has consumed 18 years’ worth of sugar. That means they consume 2,800 more sugar cubes per year than recommended levels. The current food chain has become badly distorted. Basic knowledge that my parents’ generation took for granted about how to buy, cook, prepare and store food has steadily but alarming declined.

We have allowed soulless supermarkets to drive needless overconsumption of packaged, processed, passive, perturbing products, and it is time that the greed and carelessness of corporate multinational food retailers gave way to a better model. It is not a coincidence, it is something considerably more than that; as local food retailers have declined—people knew from whom they were buying, understood what they were buying and where it came from—the consumption of processed, packaged ready meals has grown. We need to rebalance the food chain in favour of locally produced, healthy produce and to re-educate people about how to buy, cook, eat and enjoy it.