Charity calls for clearer measures to protect people with diabetes

The findings of a new Diabetes UK survey show that two thirds (67%) of people with diabetes attending work do not feel safe. More than half of respondents (54%) also say their employer is not enabling them to socially distance at work.

Since the lockdown started, Diabetes UK has seen unprecedented demand from people with diabetes seeking support on issues relating to employment and coronavirus through its helpline and support services.

The survey of almost 3,000 people with diabetes revealed that almost half (45%) of the people who are either currently at work, or are soon due to be returning to work outside of the home, reported not feeling confident in raising concerns about social distancing or safety at work with their employer. 

The 3.9 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK are identified in the Government’s list of clinically vulnerable groups, and the current advice is that people with diabetes should follow social distancing measures stringently, stay at home as much as possible, and minimise contact with those they don’t live with. 

The new research also revealed that more than half of those working outside of home (57%) don’t know where they can get support from to resolve workplace safety issues. A key element of the government’s recent employment guidance to protect workers, was the need for employers to carry out risk assessments for their employees, and make provisions to mitigate risk where it existed. However Diabetes UK’s survey found that this does not seem to be working in practice, as of those due to return to work, 60% have not been consulted about a risk assessment that had been, or was in the process of being carried out, despite being in a clinically vulnerable group. 

This builds on evidence collected by the charity in April at the height of lockdown through a separate survey which foundjust under half (43%) of key workers with diabetes leaving the house to attend work said that they were anxious about being able to social distance at their workplace, and that their employer was not willing or able to make changes about this. 

This demonstrates how the concerns of people with diabetes are increasing and intensifying as lockdown eases and that vital safeguards are lacking for those at increased risk of severe illness or death if they develop Covid-19. Many (74%) have suggested that specific risk assessments at work for people that are clinically vulnerable would help them most at this time.

Diabetes UK does not believe that the Government employment guidance goes far enough to ensure safety at work for people with diabetes and those in other clinically vulnerable groups who are at increased risk of serious illness or death if they catch Coronavirus. The charity is urgently calling for additional measures to ensure the safety of clinically vulnerable people at work. 

Commenting on the findings, Diabetes UK Chief Executive Chris Askew, said: “A return to business as usual is not possible for people with diabetes, because of the lack of adequate safeguards from Government to ensure their safety.

“With the new evidence on the increased risk for people with diabetes regarding Covid-19 – Government must act now and review all the current guidelines and measures to keep people with diabetes and other clinically vulnerable groups safe. If lockdown continues to ease without specific and enforceable safeguards for people in clinically vulnerable groups in place, this pressure will only intensify further. 

“People with diabetes deserve to have their individual needs fully considered, with action taken to reduce any risk of coming into contact with the virus. A generic and catch-all assessment of workplace risks by employers does not go far enough – and this evidence shows is not working in practice for people with diabetes.

“The Government must ensure that employers take all the necessary measures to keep all employees safe, now and going forward if they are expected to attend work outside the home – this includes clinically vulnerable people having a right to stay working from home if they do not feel safe.”

Diabetes UK has written an open letter to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, urgently calling for more robust protections for clinically vulnerable workers and greater clarity for both employees and employers. The charity is calling for: 

  • Those deemed “clinically vulnerable” including those with diabetes, to 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 furlough. This will mean that people who are at risk do not face the unenviable choice of weighing up their health or financial security. 
  • Employers must specifically consider the needs of the clinically vulnerable and all existing guidance on employment protections and workplace assessments should also be robustly enforced.
  • Robust enforcement of guidance on employment protections for clinically vulnerable groups, and workplace assessments which specifically address safety of clinically vulnerable groups.
  • Effective and proactive communication of these new measures, so that people with diabetes know their rights.