When you’re diagnosed with diabetes, you get access to your very own 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. If you’ve got a diabetes clinic near you then you’ll probably go there more than your GP surgery, but if not then you might see your GP more.
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.
Do you know what all your healthcare professionals are responsible for? Here we take you through all the professionals you might meet and what they specialise in.
This is the doctor in charge of your care and treatment. If they’re an expert in diabetes you’ll probably see them a lot, or they’ll refer you to a diabetes clinic for specialist diabetes care.
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 only work with people with diabetes. They usually give support and advice between appointments on things like checking blood sugar levels and adjusting medication.
Your DSN is there to help you fit diabetes into your life. And they’re often the person who will organise the other specialists you may need to see.
This is a nurse from your GP surgery or diabetes clinic who can help with your diabetes care. They may have had some diabetes training, but they’ll also see people who don’t have diabetes.
Diabetes specialist (diabetologist or endocrinologist)
This is a doctor who specialises in diabetes. 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.
Foot specialist (podiatrist)
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 one 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
There’s nothing worse than coming out of an appointment feeling that it was too rushed. Or that you’re leaving with questions you thought were too stupid to ask.
Prepare a bit before you go and it’ll make all the difference.
- You could bring a list of your regular checks with you and tick off what you’ve had. Remember you can ask about anything that’s due or not booked in yet.
- You could write down any questions you think of and bring them with you. Run through them again at the end to make sure nothing’s been missed. And feel free to ask for time to write things down during the appointment too – like results, medical terms, or things for you to follow up on at home.
- If you’d feel better having someone with you then that’s fine, bring them along. Sometimes that can really help if you’re the type of person who worries afterwards about what was said and if you’d understood it all.
- And try to be honest. There’s no point in being vague or pretending you’re doing better at something than you are. Be honest and clear so that you get the care you need.
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.