When you’re diagnosed with diabetes, you get access to your very own diabetes healthcare team.
Diabetes affects different parts of the body, so you’ll need to see different healthcare professionals who specialise in different things. This could be a podiatrist, who’s an expert in feet and legs. Or an ophthalmologist – an eye doctor.
And how diabetes care is managed can vary from one surgery to another and it’s not the same in all parts of the country. You may have appointments with different healthcare professionals from your GP surgery team, such as a practice nurse or healthcare assistant, as well as a GP. You may go to a diabetes clinic as well or instead.
Knowing which specialist to contact and when can make a big difference to how you manage your diabetes. You don’t have to wait until your booked appointments, it’s about knowing what to do between appointments too.
You’re entitled to see your team at least once a year but you’ll see some of them a lot more than that. Your appointments might look a bit different at the moment because of the coronavirus pandemic, but we've got lots of advice on what care to expect at this time.
What healthcare professionals are involved in diabetes care? Here we take you through all the professionals you might meet and what they specialise in.
Your diabetes healthcare team
Your GP's role in your diabetes care may vary, but this is the doctor who is usually your first point of contact for any health concerns. Generally, they coordinate your care and can refer you to specialists. If they're an expert in diabetes, you might see them a lot. However, some people attend a diabetes clinic instead.
You’ll visit a diabetes clinic at least once a year, where you’ll meet lots of different healthcare professionals. It’s a time to ask questions about your diabetes and get your vital diabetes checks. Be prepared so you can make the most of your appointments.
Diabetes specialist nurse (DSN)
This is a nurse with specialist knowledge of diabetes.
They give support and advice between appointments with things like blood sugar checks and adjusting your medication. They also usually help run patient diabetes group education courses like DESMOND.You may not need to see a diabetes specialist nurse, it depends on your treatment and personal situation..
A nurse from your GP surgery may support your diabetes care, depending on their specialist knowledge.
Diabetes specialist (diabetologist or endocrinologist)
This is doctor is a diabetes specialist. They’re usually based at a hospital or diabetes clinic, although some areas have community diabetologists based at your GP surgery.
This is an expert in food and nutrition who can talk to you about the right diet for you as someone with diabetes.
You should always see a registered dietitian when you’re first diagnosed and you’ll then have regular reviews with them.
A nutritionist isn’t the same as a dietitian. They don’t need to be registered and your doctor won’t send you to a nutritionist for the specialist support you need for your diabetes.
Registered podiatrist (foot specialist)
This is an expert in feet and legs. You’ll probably have your yearly foot check at your GP surgery or diabetes clinic, with a nurse. But if there’s something that needs extra care, you may be referred to a podiatrist for this.
A chiropodist does the same job as a podiatrist, but it’s not a name we use as much anymore.
Eye doctor (ophthalmologist)
This is a doctor who’s an expert in eyes.
They will oversee treatments and diagnose the types of retinopathy. You may never meet the ophthalmologist but they look at photos of your eyes after you go for your yearly eye screening.
This is a qualified pharmacist at your pharmacy or chemist. As well as giving you medicines and supplies on prescription, they can take a look at your medication and give you advice.
Living with diabetes can be difficult. If you’re struggling with the emotional effects of diabetes, your doctor can refer you to a psychologist to talk it all through with. You’re entitled to this kind of support.
Get the most out of your appointments
It’s really important you go to all your appointments. This will help you know how well your diabetes is being managed and take control of your own health.
Tips for appointments:
- Before an appointment think about what you need to know and what questions you have. Write them down if it will help you remember
- Have a pen and paper or your phone handy to write any notes.
- Check if you can bring someone with you or if someone can listen in if it a telephone or video call. They can help remember what has been said.
- Be honest. That way your healthcare professional can help you with anything you're struggling with.
- Ask who you should contact if you have more questions.
- Ask if there's any support available in your local area.
- Make a plan with your healthcare professional about what should happen next.
Getting a second opinion or making a complaint
If you want a second opinion on the treatment you’re getting, your healthcare team will be more than happy to ask their colleagues to see you. Or you can ask your GP for a new referral to a new team.
If you’re not happy with the care or advice you’re getting from a member of your healthcare team, ask the GP practice, hospital or clinic for a copy of their complaints procedure. It’ll tell you who to complain to and if there’s any kind of time limit.
Put your complaint in writing and keep a copy. Be clear about what’s wrong and what you want to happen. Keep a copy of their reply and if it’s by phone, ask them to put it in writing.
If you’re still not happy, you can complain to the Ombudsman. There’s more information about this at Citizens Advice.
Out-of-hours or emergency support
Most GP surgeries and diabetes clinics will have an out-of-hours service. Make sure you know what the numbers are so you can call if you need to.
If there isn’t an out-of-hours service and you live in England, Scotland or Wales, call 111. It’s a free NHS helpline for urgent medical help.
If you’re very ill, go to a hospital Accident and Emergency department immediately. Or call 999 for an ambulance.