A new study shows that people of South Asian, African, and African Caribbean ethnicity with type 2 diabetes are less likely to be prescribed statins, a medication that reduces the risk of heart diseases, heart attacks and stroke.

Every week, diabetes causes 530 heart attacks and 680 strokes in the UK. That’s why it’s vital that people with diabetes get the support they need to reduce the risk of these potentially life-threatening complications.

The likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes is reported to be as much as 6 times higher in South Asians than in white Europeans, with a number of factors, mostly linked with lifestyle, believed to be behind this increased risk.

Monitoring blood pressure is also important for diabetics.

In fact, South Asian people make up just 4% of the total UK population but account for an estimated 8% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.

South Asians without diabetes are also 3 times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease but combined with type 2 diabetes, this risk rises even further, particularly for adults with type 2 diabetes aged 20 to 60.

A study by Dr Sophie Eastwood at University College London, funded by Diabetes UK, has found that people of South Asian, African and African Caribbean ethnicity who have type 2 diabetes are less likely to be prescribed statins than those of White European ethnicity. Statins are medications that lower cholesterol and are often prescribed for people with diabetes to prevent heart attacks and stroke.

Dr Sophie Eastwood of University College London, lead author on the paper, said: “Statins lower cholesterol and are a crucial way of reducing risks of heart attack and stroke in people with type 2 diabetes.

“We estimated that by abolishing ethnic differences in statin prescribing, up to 12,600 heart attacks and strokes could be prevented in people currently affected by type 2 diabetes in the UK. Further research must urgently seek explanations for under-prescribing of statins, particularly in African and African Caribbean groups.”

South Asian people are six times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than the white population.

The study, published in PLOS Medicine, used a database of 12 million anonymised GP health records to work out rates of statin prescribing between 2006 and 2019 for people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes who were also eligible for statins. The researchers compared statin prescription rates for three ethnic groups: South Asian, African, African Caribbean, and White European.

They found that people of African and African Caribbean ethnicity newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were 24% less likely to receive a statin prescription than people of White European ethnicity, while people of South Asian ethnicity were 9% less likely.

The researchers looked at other factors that can affect whether GPs prescribe statins, like age, gender, healthcare usage, use of other medications and other health conditions, but these did not account for the differences in statin prescription rates between the ethnic groups. The researchers couldn’t identify the specific reasons for their findings and plan to conduct further research to understand why these inequalities in diabetes care exist.

The research suggests that people from ethnic minorities are being denied life-saving treatment.

Chris Askew OBE, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “This is yet another example of the unacceptable inequalities in diabetes care. It’s incredibly concerning that people with type 2 diabetes from African, African Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds are less likely to be prescribed statins than people of White European ethnicity, effectively being denied a potentially life-saving treatment that could reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke, which are common complications of type 2 diabetes.

People from African, African Caribbean and South Asian backgrounds living in the UK are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes, and diabetes-related complications such as heart attacks and strokes. Statins are an important weapon in reducing this risk, so it’s vital that people from ethnic minority backgrounds who need them but are not currently getting them, get access.

Disparities exist throughout diabetes care, within access to diabetes technologies, treatments and support. We urgently need to identify how and where people with diabetes are not getting the care they should, and take action to address the structural inequalities that exist, if we are to break the cycle that persists in the UK.”