The number of people with diabetes in Britain is expected to rise by 700,000 by the end of the decade, according to Diabetes UK.
The analysis, based on data from the Yorkshire & Humber Public Health Observatory, found 4.4 million people in England, Scotland and Wales are projected to have the condition by 2020. This would be an increase of almost a fifth and the equivalent of adding almost the combined populations of Liverpool and Newcastle to the current total.
The majority of the extra 700,000 cases would be type 2 diabetes, according to the national charity, which can often be prevented by making healthy lifestyle changes and losing weight.
Incidence of type 1 diabetes, which is not linked to lifestyle, is also rising but scientists are not clear as to why.
Diabetes UK has warned the cost of providing healthcare for the extra 700,000 people would put great financial pressure on the NHS, which is already spending 10 per cent of its budget on treating the condition.
There would also be a great human cost, as those people developing the condition could be at increased risk of amputation, blindness, kidney failure and stroke, and ultimately of early death.
The charity is calling for more resources to be put towards preventing type 2 diabetes. It wants the government to fund a public health campaign to raise awareness of risk factors and of the seriousness of diabetes. This would help identify those at high risk and would improve understanding of why it is important to make the changes to prevent it. It also wants the Government to give more support to people at high risk to help them lose weight through healthy eating and regular physical activity.
Barbara Young, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: 'The healthcare system is already at breaking point in terms of its ability to provide care for people with diabetes and the result is that many people are developing health complications that could have been avoided and are dying early as a result. Because of this, I have grave fears about the potential impact of an extra 700,000 people with diabetes, which is almost the combined population of Liverpool and Newcastle. We face the very real prospect of the rise in the number of people with the condition combining with NHS budget pressures to create a perfect storm that threatens to bankrupt the NHS.
'If this projected increase becomes reality, it would be a calamity for the healthcare system and a disaster for public health. But the government and the NHS do not seem to have grasped the scale of the impending crisis and at the moment we seem to be sleepwalking towards it. But the crucial point is that it is still not too late to take the action needed to avert it.
'We need a government-funded campaign to raise awareness of risk factors for type 2 diabetes to help identify and give proper support to those at high risk and to highlight the seriousness of the condition so that people understand why they should be doing everything they can to prevent it. We still hear about people who think diabetes is a relatively mild condition and do not realise it can lead to devastating complications such as blindness, amputation and stroke.
‘The cost of finally taking type 2 diabetes prevention seriously would be negligible compared to the cost of doing nothing as we are engulfed by the rising tide of type 2 diabetes. We are at a minute to midnight on this. We need to act now.'