Poor delivery of diabetes education is leading to devastating health complications for people with the condition and huge costs to the NHS, a group of cross-party MPs has warned.
The MPs, who are members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes, are pressing the Government and local health leaders to ensure that everyone with diabetes has access to high-quality diabetes education and support to help them manage their condition.
A new report by the MPs, Taking control: Supporting people with diabetes to look after their condition, highlights that only 16 per cent of people newly diagnosed with diabetes are offered access to a formal course covering how to effectively manage their condition. And only three per cent of people newly diagnosed with diabetes actually attended one.
This is a serious cause for concern as people with diabetes have to self-manage their condition 99 per cent of the time. This can include having to monitor their food and drink intake and adjust their insulin, to ensure their blood glucose levels are right. Failure to manage diabetes effectively can lead to life-threatening complications such as blindness, stroke and amputations – complications that have both great human and economic costs. The NHS spends £10 billion annually on diabetes, 80 per cent of which is spent on treating complications that could often be prevented if the person got the right care in the first place.
There is strong evidence that giving people the knowledge and skills to manage their diabetes effectively, through a formal education course, can lead to improvements in their blood glucose control and therefore reduce long-term risk of complications.
The report highlights two key obstacles to people accessing education and support. The first is that Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the bodies responsible for health in local areas, simply are not commissioning formal education courses in their areas, which means patients do not have the chance to attend a course.
The second problem is that even when formal education courses are offered, they do not always meet the individual needs of people living with diabetes. For example, many of them are held at times that are inconvenient for people who work. And in some instances, healthcare professionals do not recognise the value of education programmes and so do not effectively promote them to their patients.
Evidence gathered by the Group also revealed a lack of ongoing support after diagnosis, such as refresher courses and more informal styles of learning like peer-to-peer groups.
To ensure that everyone living with diabetes has the skills and confidence they need to manage their condition, the report recommends that:
• CCGs commission convenient and high-quality structured education courses and offer top-up modules for all who wish to attend.
• CCGs offer other learning opportunities about diabetes, and support through peers, groups, ‘taster sessions’ and online courses and communities.
The report highlights that commissioning convenient and high-quality education is in line with the commitment made in the NHS Five Year Forward View. The View commits the NHS to investing in group-based education and peer-to-peer support for people with long-term conditions.
Adrian Sanders MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes, said: “All people with diabetes have to look after their condition day in, day out. This can be extremely difficult, and they only come into contact with doctors and nurses a few times a year. Yet the consequences if they do not manage their diabetes can be devastating.
“This is why it is crucial that we see the commitment of the NHS Five Year Forward View become a reality, with education and support being made available and accessible to all people with diabetes. This would also significantly reduce their risk of health complications and this will save associated costs for the already stretched NHS.
“Our report shows that with better commissioning and leadership from national and local government, we can end this postcode lottery of diabetes education. We know that some areas are delivering education and support effectively; we now need to see the NHS getting better at sharing and replicating best practice across all areas. Until this happens we will continue to see people with diabetes unnecessarily facing debilitating complications, and continued unsustainable costs to the NHS.”
The secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Diabetes is shared by Diabetes UK and the type 1 diabetes charity JDRF.