New NICE Guidelines for Type 1 Diabetes Published – Mike at everydayupsanddowns

NICE_800Over the last three years I have been lucky enough to work with a wonderful group of fiercely clever and passionate people as one of two patient representatives on the NICE ‘Guideline Development Group’ which was revising and updating the NICE Guidelines for type 1 diabetes in adults for the UK. Expert consultants, eminent physicians, nurses, pharmacists, GPs, educators, editors, along with a host of other specialists including researchers and health economists who gathered and organised an almost unimaginable quantity of research data for the group to filter through and consider.

It has been a huge privilege to work with them all, not least Professor Amiel, the chair of the group, who is a complete inspiration and quite the nicest person you could meet. We have not been permitted to mention anything much connected with the discussions until publication, but at last, today, the guideline launches here: ‘Type 1 diabetes in adults: diagnosis and management‘.


If you have been living in a cave for the last 16 years and have never heard of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), they are an independent body working as part of the Department of Health who publish guidance on all manner of healthcare topics which aims to set the ‘gold standard’ of evidence-based care, balancing clinical outcomes, patient preference and quality of life against the cold hard reality of NHS budgets (ie Yes! You can have something expensive… but only if published research shows it’s reeeeeally good for most people).

As a patient, I *love* the fact that I can have a weighty, official, authoritative document that describes what has been shown to be the very best in diabetes care. It gives me something to consult to measure my own experience in clinic, and the right kind of pointy questions to ask if I think I should be getting something that isn’t being offered. Plus if I think something should be available that isn’t, the documentation is so comprehensive that (if I wanted to) I can dig down into the ‘linking evidence to recommendations‘ section to unpick the reseach and discussions that underpinned the recommendations.

NICE seems to get a hard time in the press off and on (either for denying treatment, or for recommending it) and is frequently accused of bias or an almost corrupt collusion with the pharmaceutical industry. I have to say this could not be further from my experience of the guideline development process. Each meeting included a new declaration of ‘conflict of interest’ and anyone with a conflict, financial or otherwise, however minor, was not permitted to contribute to the discussion or was asked to leave the meeting entirely.

I am very proud to have been part of the process, and believe that this updated guideline, if fully implemented has has enormous potential to improve the lives of adults living with type 1 diabetes in the UK.

Here are a few things I’m really pleased made it into the final version:

Structured education

Offer all adults with type 1 diabetes a structured education programme of proven benefit, for example the DAFNE (dose-adjustment for normal eating) programme. Offer this programme 6–12 months after diagnosis.

If a structured education programme has not been undertaken by an adult with type 1 diabetes by 12 months after diagnosis, offer it at any time that is clinically appropriate and suitable for the person, regardless of duration of type 1 diabetes.

My feelings about the lack of structured education formed no small part of my journey toward joining this NICE committee. Carb counting, dose adjustment, correction factors, basal testing, guidance about exercise, alcohol and sick day rules. How can people be expected to make a decent go at managing their type 1 diabetes without these skills? And yet the number of people who have ever attended such a course is pitifully small. Unless I’m mis-remembering it’s something like 6.5%. Let’s hope that during the life of this guideline that changes significantly.

Access to test strips

Support adults with type 1 diabetes to test at least 4 times a day, and up to 10 times a day if any of the following apply:

  • the desired target for blood glucose control, measured by HbA1c level (see recommendation 1.6.6), is not achieved
  • the frequency of hypoglycaemic episodes increases
  • there is a legal requirement to do so (such as before driving, in line with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency [DVLA] At a glance guide to the current medical standards of fitness to drive)
  • during periods of illness
  • before, during and after sport
  • when planning pregnancy, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding (see the NICE guideline on diabetes in pregnancy)
  • if there is a need to know blood glucose levels more than 4 times a day for other reasons (for example, impaired awareness of hypoglycaemia, high-risk activities).

‘Proper’ testing frequencies of up to 10x a day (and making use of the results) shown to be more effective AND cost-effective. No more shocked looks permitted from non-specialist Drs or nurses suggesting a couple of times a week should be fine.

HbA1c Target

Support adults with type 1 diabetes to aim for a target HbA1c level of 48 mmol/mol (6.5%) or lower, to minimise the risk of long-term vascular complications.

Agree an individualised HbA1c target with each adult with type 1 diabetes, taking into account factors such as the person’s daily activities, aspirations, likelihood of complications, comorbidities, occupation and history of hypoglycaemia.

I’ve written about this before. Personally, as a patient, I am really pleased with the balance between these recommendations. Don’t tell me to be happy with an A1c approaching 8% if there is real evidence that lower is better to guard against long-term complications. Don’t tell people who have no problematic hypoglycaemia that their A1c is ‘too low’ because it’s in the 6s (can’t get used to the new numbers yet, sorry!). On the flip side, treat me as an individual, don’t label me as a failure because you have a magic number in your head that I am working toward, but I’m not there yet.

Not exactly ‘CGM for all’, but…

Consider real-time continuous glucose monitoring for adults with type 1 diabetes who are willing to commit to using it at least 70% of the time and to calibrate it as needed, and who have any of the following despite optimised use of insulin therapy and conventional blood glucose monitoring:

  • More than 1 episode a year of severe hypoglycaemia with no obviously preventable precipitating cause.
  • Complete loss of awareness of hypoglycaemia.
  • Frequent (more than 2 episodes a week) asymptomatic hypoglycaemia that is causing problems with daily activities.
  • Extreme fear of hypoglycaemia.
  • Hyperglycaemia (HbA1c level of 75 mmol/litre [9%] or higher) that persists despite testing at least 10 times a day (see recommendations 1.6.11 and 1.6.12). Continue real-time continuous glucose monitoring only if HbA1c can be sustained at or below 53 mmol/mol (7%) and/or there has been a fall in HbA1c of 27 mmol/mol (2.5%) or more.

‘Consider’ is NICEspeak for a much weaker recommendation. It should be on the table, but it’s not for everyone. The evidence for effectiveness of CGM was just not compelling enough to do anything else at it’s current eye-watering pricetag. To be honest I was shocked at how weak it was, given the experience of people I know who self-fund CGM. Continuous Glucose Monitoring it seems just doesn’t do well enough in Randomised Controlled Trials. But at least, here, it *might* be available on the NHS to the people who really need it.

And finally
It was great to see bi-modal (mixed) insulins being given the heave-ho, unless people really wanted to use them. From now on people should be able to start off on a proper flexible MDI regimen from the outset, along with some good education and support.

It was also really heartening to see how NICE reacted to the subject of language. The editors were updating the old recommendations for clarity and new styling (for example ‘adult with type 1 diabetes’ rather than ‘diabetic’ or ‘patient’). I raised the question of the word control which is a difficult term for some people. Personally I cannot ‘control’ my diabetes – I do not have the ability to affect all the variables. At best I can limit some, and try to react to, or work around the others. I don’t control my diabetes, I manage it. Because of the timing of the discussion, it was not possible given the time-restrictions to change the terminology used in the full guideline (though discussions will be had within NICE for future versions). I was very pleased though that for the ‘Information for the Public’ version, the phrase ‘diabetes control’ has been replaced.

What do you think? Will the new NICE guideline make any difference to you? Were you even aware that there was one to cover type 1 diabetes? Let me know in the comments below.

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