New research has found a significant improvement in the health of diabetes sufferers whose condition was managed through regular GP visits.

An audit of the Midland Diabetes Structured Care Programme involving almost 4,000 patients over 15 years found that medical complications from type 2 diabetes were reduced by over 80%.

It also found major savings can be achieved in the management of diabetes by general practitioners.

There are over 200,000 people with diabetes in Ireland.

The audit was launched by Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Dr Velma Harkins, GP lead for the study, said: "The results have been very encouraging. We saw an 80% reduction in eye, kidney and feet complications in patients with type 2 diabetes, and a 94% reduction in heart-related complications between 2003 and 2016.

"We also held patients' BMI stable. The programme serves as an example of what can be achieved through pro-active primary-care led management instead of episodic unstructured care. This approach delivers real results."

She estimated the cost of running the programme nationally at about €5m a year.

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Speaking on RTÉ's Six One News she said that if the programme was rolled out nationally it could save hundreds of millions of euro annually.

Minister Harris said he would like to see the diabetes programme rolled out throughout the country.

But he said that to do so, a new GP contract has to be put in place.

Mr Harris said the results of the regional programme were "compelling" and he would like to see it extended very quickly.

But he did not wish to put a timeframe on it, given there are contract talks with GPs.