The Government’s flagship diabetes prevention programme will start saving the NHS money by around 2030, according to an impact assessment.

The programme, which launched earlier this year and is currently being rolled out across the country, should become cost-saving ‘by year 14’, public health experts reported.

It comes as Public Health England (PHE) has warned that the rising tide of type 2 diabetes – on course to affect five million by 2035 – could cripple the NHS financially in the future.

The National Diabetes Prevention Programme – set up by PHE in collaboration with NHS England and Diabetes UK, to try reverse the tide – has tasked GPs with finding and referring the estimated five million at risk of diabetes for group activities such as Zumba and cookery classes, to help get them to be more active and lose weight.

Speaking today at PHE’s annual conference, Rachel Clark, evidence lead for the programme, said a local impact assessment by Sheffield University researchers had ‘suggested that the programme would be cost saving at around 14 years’.

She added she thought that the scheme would prove cost-effective ‘much sooner’ than this.

PHE is pushing out a ‘return on investment’ tool to help commissioners determine how much the service could help to save in the future.

PHE experts also said that, assuming GPs can sign up 390,000 onto the scheme by 2021 as planned, then around 100 per CCG will be prevented from or delayed in developing diabetes - resulting in around £1.2bn worth of ‘health benefits’.

The figures are based on PHE’s review of the evidence from intensive lifestyle intervention studies.

However, some experts have warned this over-exaggerates the likely reduction in diabetes and called for greater emphasis on population-wide approaches to tackling obesity and diabetes - such as through sugar taxes and restrictions on marketing.

Earlier in the day, PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie was forced to defend the Government’s obesity plan – widely panned by the Health Committee, obesity experts and campaign groups for watering down such measures.

Quizzed about the criticism, Mr Selbie said public health colleagues should not see the strategy ‘as a failure’.

He said: ‘You need to have more than the evidence, you need to be more than right. You have to win the consent of the people and in a parliamentary democracy that means Parliament and Government in a negotiation.

‘What I’m trying to convey is, please don’t see that as failure because it’s more than any other country in the world is doing.’

Mr Selbie said the concessions the obesity strategy had already won had been a ‘big ask’ and that the public health community needed to know ‘when to say thank you’ to the Government.