Quarter of Covid-19 deaths in English hospitals were of diabetics

NHS’s first breakdown of underlying health conditions also finds 18% had dementia

One in four people who have died in hospital with Covid-19 also had diabetes, the NHS’s first breakdown of underlying health conditions among the fatalities shows.

Of the 22,332 people who died in hospital in England between 31 March and 12 May, 5,873 (26%) suffered from either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, NHS England figures reveal.

That was the most common illness found in an analysis of what existing conditions patients had. The other commonest comorbidities were dementia (18%), serious breathing problems (15%) and chronic kidney disease (14%). One in ten (10%) suffered from ischaemic heart disease.

The finding about diabetes confirms anecdotal reports from intensive care doctors that many of the coronavirus patients they have been treating during the pandemic had underlying diabetes, as well as research by the UK’s Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre.

NHS England said the one in four figure confirmed that diabetes – which 4.8 million Britons are estimated to have – increases the risk of death from Covid-19.

“It is clear that people with diabetes are more at risk of dying from Covid-19,” said Prof Partha Kar, the organisation’s specialty adviser on the disease. “More detailed analysis is currently underway to understand the link between the two, although initial findings indicate that the threat in people under 40 continues to be very low.”.

NHS England’s breakdown, published for the first time on Thursday, did not specify how many of the 5,873 diabetics who died had type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition not related to lifestyle, and type 2 diabetes, which is closely linked to being overweight. Fuller details will be published in an article in a medical journal next week.

The NHS has tried to reduce the extra risk faced by diabetics from Covid-19 by helping them to manage their condition by providing online services, video consultations with specialists and a dedicated helpline, Kar said.

Experts think that diabetes increases the risk of dying from Covid-19 because diabetes puts strain on the heart and other organs.

“The fact that more than a quarter of people who have died with Covid-19 have diabetes underlines the urgent need to ensure better protection and extra support is available to those in the clinically vulnerable groups,” said Bridget Turner, director of policy at the charity Diabetes UK.

More research is needed to understand why diabetes heightens the risk of death from Covid, she said. “But until we know more, people living with diabetes should be supported to manage their condition, attend appointments as normal either online or in person at Covid-protected sites and, most importantly, should continue to have access to their local clinical team if they have concerns,” she said.

Alzheimer’s Research UK said it was “shocking” that 4,048 of the people who have died – almost one in five of the total – had dementia and that this would increase fear. However, it is known that 88% of deaths have been among over-65s and death rates are highest among those over 80.

Samantha Benham-Hermetz, the charity’s director of policy and public affairs, said: “This shocking news will no doubt bring even more worry and fear to people affected by dementia and their loved ones, during an already challenging time.

“While it’s still unclear what’s behind the link between Covid-19 and dementia, we do know that people with dementia are more vulnerable to certain infections. Age is the biggest risk factor for dementia, and with older people also more likely to experience severe symptoms from Covid-19, this may partly explain the high number of deaths. It is also possible that people with dementia may be more likely to have been exposed to the virus due to high rates of infection in care homes.”


Denis Campbell Health policy editor

The GuardianTramp

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