Walking the diabetes ‘Type-rope’ – by Chris Askew


Chris-Askew-150x150It’s been quite a week. We’ve had a sugar levy surprise (that’s not a type of cupcake), launched the National Type 2 Diabetes Prevention Programme and, away from the public eye, Diabetes UK has supported the arrival into consultation of a new Diabetes Service Framework in Northern Ireland and been involved in finalising the measures by which CCG’s in England will be assessed for the quality of their diabetes services. This, interspersed for me by a day spent with many of our volunteers in the south-west, hearing of how they bring their unique perspectives of living with diabetes to their work of improving local services.

I’ve just clocked up six months at Diabetes UK and have a good picture now of the immense breadth of work which our supporters enable us to deliver. I recently came across a list of all the ways health charities can make an impact: direct support, engaging people in keeping healthy, supported self-management, integrating and co-ordinating care, involving families and carers, support for health and care professionals and system redesign. At Diabetes UK, thanks to the support and involvement of a wide range of stakeholders, we do all those things. And more, committing £6million each year to funding the highest quality scientific research, equally weighted in Type 1 and Type 2 and covering rare forms of diabetes too.

Across this spectrum of work, we have to do our level best to meet need where it’s greatest and to make the most of opportunities to achieve more for all people with and affected by diabetes, now and in the future. We must also never stray far from the moderating and guiding influence and insights of those we are here to support and we are lucky that, thanks to the many who have an interest in seeing Diabetes UK succeed, we have a good sense of when our supporters feel we are ‘weighted’ in our work unduly in one direction or another. This often falls across a Type 1 / Type 2 split, as you might expect, but not exclusively so.

It can be across age groups, or newly versus distant diagnosed, or between treatment and prevention, or across different demographic groups. Often, the issue may be perception more than reality. At other times, we may have made a call about where, at a particular moment, we prioritise for biggest impact. And then, quite simply, there is always more we could do, if we had more resources or perhaps worked more effectively. My wish, as we steer through these decisions, is that, as your Diabetes UK, we speak clearly and confidently, with a strong instinct to listen, and make the best account we can of why we do the work we do, whilst remaining open to challenge and encouragement to see and do things differently.

Which brings me back to a big week in diabetes. We have canvassed hard for the sugar tax and welcome its arrival unequivocally. It will not be the most important and significant factor by any means in tackling rising incidence of Type 2, but it is a symbolic and irreversible next turn of the ratchet on the slow wheel of public health gain. Fast rising incidence of lifestyle related Type 2 diabetes should concern us all, and will place enormous strain on generic diabetes resources as well as bringing a large burden of individual poor health. For those reasons, it’s right that we support any viable activity which offers hope in preventing or delaying many cases of Type 2 diabetes.

In that ambition, too, we have partnered with NHSE and PHE in launching the National Type 2 Diabetes Prevention Programme in England. In both cases, our role at the heart of discussions and work means that the views of those with diabetes are brought to bear; for example, we’ve made sure that key elements of the Prevention Programme have been designed with the views of those at risk of Type 2 diabetes in mind and we will play a full part in the consultation on the sugar levy in looking at solutions to the use of sugary drinks to treat low blood glucose (all ideas welcome!).

It is also only by playing a central role that we can challenge the inaccurate or lazy classification of different types of diabetes which so undermines a clear understanding of the condition in the public mind – and which frustrates or angers us all.

Behind our involvement in the high profile Type 2 diabetes headlines of this last week, I’m as confident that at Diabetes UK we’re maintaining the right balance in where we focus our efforts across all types of diabetes as I am clear that there is always more we can do.

I hope also that we are playing a central role in making sure people know and use the facts about diabetes. And then, I believe and hope, we are bringing the views of people with diabetes and of those working in diabetes, to the heart of efforts across the UK to tackle diabetes in all forms and at all stages. So, not edging along a ‘Type-rope’, but with confidence helping to bridge and bind people and ideas together, in order to tackle diabetes. And in this, we can’t progress without your continued views and support.

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