How the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people living with diabetes, in their ability to manage their condition

  • 27 September 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for people living with diabetes, causing ripple impacts for their carers, parents and partners. New research led by the University of Bristol has found coronavirus has had a significant negative impact on the ability of people living with diabetes to manage their condition, and on the confidence that those close to them have in supporting them adequately.  However, measures could be taken to meet the needs of these individuals.

In a UK-wide study, supported by Diabetes UK and funded by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, researchers distributed an online survey developed in collaboration with the National Institute for Health Research Bristol Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR Bristol BRC). Over 800 people living with diabetes and parents, carers, and partners responded to the survey. It was designed to identify the impact the pandemic has had, and capture their opinions on how the information, advice and support they receive could be improved.

The survey asked questions on topics relating to:

  • self-management of their condition and mental wellbeing
  • access to healthcare teams
  • access to support from outside their household
  • perceived quality of information coming from official sources

Results showed that the pandemic had a largely negative impact on individuals in many of these areas. There was a feeling of a lack of quality of information from governmental and healthcare information sources. In many cases, respondents chose to make their own informed decisions to shield, having not received official guidance from either of these sources.

Unsurprisingly during lockdown, 41.2 per cent of respondents living alone reported not having received any support from outside their household. The pandemic had a large impact on their mental wellbeing. It also affected their ability to achieve recommended physical activity levels or to follow a healthy eating pattern. However, several respondents reported having adapted to the situation, with positive effects on their diabetes management.

Dr Sarah Sauchelli Toran, Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol and the NIHR Bristol Biomedical Research Centre, said:

“During the pandemic we have learnt that some people living with diabetes may be more vulnerable to developing severe form illness if they do catch coronavirus.

“Healthcare teams and organisations dedicated to supporting people living with diabetes have limited resources and a lot of demand for their services. We must act strategically when deciding how to assign healthcare resources.”

The researchers suggest there are steps that could be taken to meet the needs of these individuals. Health commissioners should prioritise increased contact between healthcare teams and their patients when patients express a need, they should facilitate access to support for mental health and wellbeing and equip important others with the knowledge and tools to confidently assist the person living with diabetes.


Identifying support needs of people living with diabetes and their carers during the COVID-19 pandemic: insights from a UK survey
Sarah Sauchelli, Julia Bradley, Clare England, Aidan Searle, Alex Whitmarsh in BMJ: Diabetes Research & Care