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Improving care using systems thinking

The challenges in diabetes care are often urgent, happening at scale and exacerbated by a structure that was not designed to support people with long-term conditions. And despite the best of intentions and investment of resources, trying to make improvements can be complicated, overwhelming and frustrating. One way to tackle these issues and create lasting change, is by using a systems thinking approach.

What is systems thinking?

Systems thinking looks at the bigger picture and provides a framework to get to the heart of the problem and understand how all the parts are connected and influence one another. Establishing this big-picture perspective can lead to the development of more sustainable and effective solutions. It enables teams to work together, break down silos and ensures that any change is led and driven from the bottom up. By viewing the problems through this lens, and applying systems practices, new opportunities can be tailored to the needs of the local system, including people with lived experience.

How are we using it?

We are applying this approach, in collaboration with local healthcare teams, to various improvement projects across the United Kingdom. These projects are opportunities for people to apply the systems change process in real time and make a difference in their area. The lessons from these projects will also be shared so that everyone can benefit from both the end product (where relevant) as well as any learnings on the process itself.

Systems thinking skills are important for healthcare professionals and anyone who wants to make change in the health system. This is why Diabetes UK is building up a set of resources to aid anyone who would like to use this approach in their work. Case studies from healthcare professionals we've worked with are available in our Good Practice library and our Leadership Programmes and Community are a great place to learn these skills.

Further support

If you would like more information about these projects or about how a systems thinking approach may enhance your work, please email

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