IT IS the potentially fatal disease which has affected millions of people across Britain and costs the NHS billions of pounds to treat.

Type 2 diabetes is rapidly spreading across the country at a time when health budgets are buckling under pressure.

Now doctors in Southampton are trialling a breakthrough study which could radically improve detection rates of the devastating disease and save millions of pounds at the same time.

Researchers at Southampton General Hospital have devised an innovative technique boosting current screenings with a simple finger prick blood test.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 per cent of all cases of the illness in the UK and is linked closely with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

It occurs when the body becomes resistant to the hormone insulin and cannot break down sugar (glucose) in the blood.

More than 2.7 million people suffer from the condition while 750,000 remain undiagnosed.

High glucose levels can damage blood vessels, nerves and organs and increase vulnerability to heart disease, stroke and retinal damage.

Current screening methods involve patients completing a questionnaire with details of age, gender, ethnicity, waist circumference, body mass index (BMI) and family history to calculate a risk score of developing the condition within ten years. But the method only identifies half of those at risk, with the remainder having to undergo an additional blood glucose test which costs around £5 and requires a laboratory test, with results taking a week to arrive.

But the Southampton team is marrying the questionnaire with an additional finger prick blood glucose test.

This new two-part procedure can be carried out in the same GP appointment with immediate results.

The team hope this will greatly increase successful diagnoses of the condition during the earlier stages of the disease, faster and for less cost.

Consultant diabetologist Dr Patrick Sharp, pictured left, who is leading the study, said the finger prick test technique has previously been available but it has never been combined with the questionnaires on a widespread scale.

He says it represents a more “feasible and efficient” alternative and added: “A finger prick test may enable clinicians to screen out a higher proportion of people as being at risk of diabetes and avoid the need for a further expensive and time-consuming laboratory blood testing.”

“The NHS spends about ten per cent of its total budget on management of diabetes and most of that is used in the treatment of complications of diabetes which could have been avoided if the condition had been picked up and managed earlier.

“This is one piece of the jigsaw in saving the NHS money.”

Anyone interested in participating in the study should call 023 8120 4989 or email UHS.