You need certain health checks when you have diabetes. You might hear this called your 'annual review', but you don’t always get these once a year. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, your diabetes care is going to look a bit different for a while. Here’s what to expect.
What diabetes care can I expect?
When you have diabetes, you’re entitled to certain checks, tests and services to help you get the care you need – like your HbA1c blood test. These checks help to prevent serious diabetes complications, like problems with your feet, eyes, heart and kidneys.
During coronavirus, many routine appointments like your annual diabetes review have been cancelled or postponed. We know this may be worrying, but you should be able to reschedule as things get back to normal. In some areas, these appointments are being held over the phone or by video call instead. It might feel strange having appointments in a different way to normal, but we've got lots of advice on preparing for remote diabetes appointments.
Some people with diabetes who have more urgent care needs are being prioritised, for example if you’re already having treatment for a foot or eye problem, or if you’re pregnant. If you are invited to an appointment in person, your healthcare professionals will be wearing protective equipment and appointments will be scheduled to avoid busy waiting areas. It's really important you go to your appointment.
It's important that the doctor or team responsible for your diabetes care keep you updated on what to expect right now and explain when your next review will be. If you haven't had an appointment at all for diabetes care in the last 12-18 months or have questions, contact them to find out more.
We know that some people with diabetes may not have been able to get their HbA1c, cholesterol, and kidney function blood tests right now. But some hospitals and general practices are collecting samples for HbA1c by post or by drive-through services.
If you have not had a blood test in the last year and you are worried, ask your healthcare team for a test.
And if you use a flash glucose monitor or continuous glucose monitor, you should be able to share your time in range readings with your clinical team online. This will help your team see how your blood sugars are doing without the need for an HbA1c test.
If you don’t have high blood pressure, then you probably won’t be invited to a blood pressure check for some time. But if you are invited for a blood test, ask if your blood pressure can be taken at the same time.
In some areas, diabetes care teams have suggested people buy their own home blood pressure monitoring kit. You can find a list of blood pressure monitors to use at home from the British and Irish Hypertension Society website.
We know that won’t be possible for everyone, and we don’t think people should have to pay for these devices. We’re calling on the NHS to find other ways to make these available for free.
If you're invited for a blood test or blood pressure check, your team might want you to do a urine test at the same time to check that your kidneys are working properly. If you're not sure when you last had this test, ask your team about how soon you might need to have this done again.
As with other routine diabetes care, foot services may be prioritising those at most risk. So if you don’t have any current problems with your feet, you may be waiting a little longer. However, it’s important your diabetes team let you know when to expect a check.
It’s never been more important to check your feet and legs every day – here we show you how to do it and what to look for. If you spot something new you're concerned about, like a cut or blister on your foot, call your GP practice and explain your situation - don't delay. If you can't get through, call 111 for advice or get medical NHS help 111 online.
Eye screening may be temporarily reduced in some areas, but will have reduced capacity to ensure it is delivered safely. This means that appointments will be prioritised to those most at risk of experiencing sight loss, including:
- pregnant women
- people who already have eye problems (background or more advanced retinopathy)
- those who have recently been diagnosed
- if you haven't had any screening in the past.
If you are invited to a screening appointment, it’s really important you go. And if you notice any changes to your eyesight, these should be checked as soon as possible – gradual changes can be checked by your optician, but if you notice any sudden changes, get urgent medical care.
If your most recent screening test result showed no signs of retinopathy, this means you are in the group of people with diabetes who are lowest risk of retinopathy. Evidence gathered over several years shows it is now safe for you to wait up to 24 months between screening appointments. There is very little chance you will develop sight-threatening retinopathy between appointments.
Keep taking your medication and speak to your local pharmacist if you have questions.
Checking your weight
If you can, weigh yourself at home and keep a record that you can share with your diabetes team.
Taking care of your emotional health is really important, especially at the moment when you might be staying at home more. If you’re having a tough time and need support, you might be able to refer yourself to services like counselling without seeing your GP first. If you need more advice about this, call our helpline advisors on 0345 123 2399 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm. We’re also here to listen and help if you have any worries or concerns.
Managing your diabetes between appointments
It makes all the difference if you’re in the know about your diabetes too. There are lots of things you can do to look after yourself at home, like eating a healthy diet to help manage your cholesterol and blood pressure, checking your feet daily for any changes, and keeping active.
Discover how to look after your diabetes with confidence, in our free Learning Zone, with interactive quizzes and expert advice from healthcare professionals.
Owning your own care puts you in the driving seat. It’s how you manage your diabetes and how you reduce your risk of serious diabetes complications.
If you're already having treatment for something like a foot or eye problem, and you don't have coronavirus symptoms, then your appointments should still carry on. If you're worried about going to your clinic or hospital at this time or want to check whether your appointment is still going ahead, contact your diabetes team or call the number on your appointment letter. Take a look at our guide to going into hospital.