Published: 00:01, 25 May 2018
There has been a dramatic increase in hospital admissions in Kent for people with Vitamin D deficiency, fuelling concerns we are not getting enough sunshine.
Provisional data for 2017/18 shows hospital admissions across the county reached 1,075, compared to just 75 patients affected in 2010/11 - a rise of 1,300%.
More than half of cases (558) involve people living in West Kent, according to NHS Digital statistics for 2016-17, followed by Medway with 183 patients and Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley with 150.
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Vitamin D is important as it helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body and these nutrients are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities such as rickets in children, and bone pain caused by a condition called osteomalacia in adults.
It also compromises the immune system leaving people at risk of illness and causes constant fatigue.
Rich lives in Medway and went to his GP when he started to feel low last Christmas.
He was diagnosed after having a blood test: "I did think to myself already that sitting all day indoors in an office probably isn't the best place to be and so I'd often thought to myself this can't be good for me, it's going to have some kind of effect at some point."
Dr Julian Spinks, a GP based in Strood, is surprised hospital admissions are so high: "I do know as a doctor that we're actually looking for Vitamin D deficiency more often than we used to do, but it's really the extreme end of deficiency that ends up being admitted to hospital.
"We're living more indoors than we used to do. If you look before the industrial revolution we didn't see Vitamin D deficiency, once we started to move indoors we did and now we have a situation where we spend most of our time indoors.
"The concern is that not only does it give symptoms like pain and tiredness but it increases the risk of osteoporosis, that's the thinning of the bones, that can cause fractures later in life. And there's some suggestion that having low levels of Vitamin D will increase your risk of serious diseases including cancer."
People most at risk of getting the condition include those who are frail or housebound or living in an institution like a care home and those who usually wear clothes that cover up most of their skin when outdoors.
The NHS says from late March/early April to the end of September, most people should be able to get all the Vitamin D they need from sunlight but that is not the case during the winter months.
Shadow Public Health Minister Sharon Hodgson, MP, has previously raised concerns in the Commons about Vitamin D deficiency.
She said: "They estimate around 1 in 5 people have got low levels of Vitamin D, so we do need to get out in the sun especially during the spring and summer.
"In the UK, ultra-violet light is only strong enough to make Vitamin D on our skin during April to September. In the autumn and winter the advice is we should probably take a supplement of 10 micrograms to make sure we're getting the right level."
It is estimated the use of supplements saves the NHS around £101million a year but a consultation is under way into whether they should still be made available for free on prescription to people on low incomes.
Mrs Hodgson says that is a concern: "It's terrible what it (Vitamin D deficiency) can lead to, rickets in children where they don't grow properly and their bones are all twisted, I mean these are things we haven't seen since Victorian times."
While most Vitamin D comes from the sun, other sources include oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and fresh tuna, red meat, liver, egg yolks and most fat spreads along with some breakfast cereals.