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Why people should be at the heart of diabetes services

Research shows us that every individual should be at the heart of their care. Dr Jemma Kwint, from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) looks at how we could improve diabetes services by prioritising people.

Dr Jemma Kwint at her desk

Every year, the NIHR spends money on research that could help us to improve how we diagnose, treat and care for different conditions. Recently, I looked through some of the research on diabetes, picking out projects that could improve services.

Diabetes is a complex condition. Managing it requires an enormous effort from those with the condition and support from the NHS. Could any of the findings from this research help us to improve how we care for people with diabetes?

I uncovered a few key takeaways.

Prevention programmes for type 2 diabetes could be more engaging.

The NIHR is assessing the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme for England, ‘Healthier You’. So far, it seems that people who complete the programme reduce their blood sugar levels and lose weight. However, the research suggests that smaller group sizes, more out-of-hours sessions and developing more interactive and visual activities could help people to stay engaged and complete the programme.

Type 2 diabetes prevention should be guided by people’s ethnic group.

Currently, people living with obesity (a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher) are recommended to take action to prevent type 2 diabetes. People from Black African, African-Caribbean, South Asian and Chinese groups have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes at a lower bodyweight, and prevention should start at a BMI of 27.5. However, research has found that some ethnic groups would benefit from prevention services at a much lower BMI. For example, in some South Asian populations, support to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes might be needed at a BMI of 21.

Access to personal health records can help people manage their diabetes.

Electronic health records are not routinely shared with patients in the UK. Research has found that giving people with diabetes access to this information could help them to manage their condition and reduce their blood sugar levels.

Using risk scores could help services reach people most in need.

Using personal risk scores could help to identify people with diabetes who are at high risk of complications or worsening health. These people could then be offered targeted care.

Listening to young people is important to engage them with services.

Young people with diabetes need to be empowered to manage their condition. However, young people are likely to miss appointments, particularly those from disadvantaged or ethnic minority communities. Research found young people would be more likely to engage with diabetes services if the things that are important to them are given as much attention as their blood sugar levels.

Final thoughts

Overall, all this research highlights that ‘one size does not fit all’. Every individual should be kept at the very centre of their own care. Whether that be making sure services take into account the other things people have going on in their life, helping people access useful information, or tailoring care based on diabetes progression or someone’s ethnic group.

We hope this research will provide useful information both for those commissioning and delivering services, and for members of the public. You can find out more about this research in our full Collection.

About Jemma

I am a Senior Research Fellow at NIHR. My work brings together research findings to make them accessible to all members of society. Diabetes is a national priority and we at NIHR continue to fund a lot of research into its prevention and treatment. I wanted to promote messages from some of our recent research showing how tailoring diabetes services to individuals could improve people’s care.

I live in Hampshire and my favourite pastimes are chatting to family and friends and going on long walks in the countryside with my two black labradors.

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