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England’s Chief Nursing Officer has urged young people newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes to respect their condition and ‘not to let it define them’.
Jane Cummings was 19 when she was diagnosed with Type 1 and has needed to inject insulin several times a day ever since.
For World Diabetes Day she is aiming to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes which affects 10 per cent of people with diabetes – the other 90 per cent have Type 2 diabetes which is largely brought on by lifestyle.
As a teenager and student nurse, Jane was determined to take control of her condition after caring for a patient who had needed a double amputation and had gone blind. But as she learned to manage her diabetes she realised, with a bit of planning, the likelihood of complications was vastly reduced.
Around 303,000 people are living with Type 1 in the UK, the peak age for diagnosis is 9-14 but it can be diagnosed as a young child or an adult, and it’s an autoimmune condition not caused by lifestyle factors.
If left untreated Type 1 diabetes can have devastating affects including amputation, blindness and kidney disease.
Jane, now in her 50s, said: “I found it a bit daunting when I was first diagnosed as I was looking after a lady who had had both legs amputated and was blind because of it. But I haven’t let it define me or let it stop me doing anything.
“I trained as a nurse and worked in many different roles including A&E where I needed to be available at the drop of a hat and be flexible. My current role involves a lot of travelling and evening work but you just have to get on and take care.”
In Type 1 an autoimmune response means the body destroys its own insulin producing cells and people cannot produce insulin.
Jane said she learned about diabetes as a student nurse but even when she developed symptoms including weight loss and being tired she initially assumed it was down to the very hard work and being a first year student.
A Sister on Jane’s ward at the time she started insulin had a daughter who had Type 1 and together with Jane’s diabetic nurse specialist was very supportive in helping her have the confidence to manage her diabetes.
“They helped me look at the food I was eating and think about how much insulin I was giving myself,” she said. “I did have to rethink some of my diet, I used to have sugar in tea and I probably cut back on cake, chocolate and sweets. I have a sensible balanced diet but it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.”
Jane said Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes were often confused but that there were important distinctions – for example Type 2 diabetes is clearly associated with lifestyle factors whereas Type 1 diabetes is not.
Jane continued: “Some people say it is a restriction on the things you can do but I say it’s far better to look after yourself, treat your diabetes with respect, don’t mess with it and if you do that you’ll be fitter and healthier and have fewer complications. In the long run it’s the right thing to do.
“Type 2 tends to occur later in life and it’s something you can prevent but it doesn’t mean once you’ve got it you can’t manage it. There are some people with Type 2 who don’t have to take anything at all – but the best advice is to look after your health and lifestyle and avoid developing it if you can.”
Dr Partha Kar, Associate National Clinical Director for Diabetes for NHS England, has developed a new way to help young people with Type 1 diabetes understand their condition through art – by turning them into comic book superheroes.
With Revolve Comics he and his team are transforming patients’ understanding of the condition with the hope of spreading the Type 1 diabetes message. For those readers who are newly-diagnosed, they will feel more empowered to look after themselves and see it is possible to live a long, healthy life with type 1.
Dr Kar, also a Consultant in Diabetes & Endocrinology at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We really want to speak to children and young people receiving their diagnoses of Type1 diabetes as soon as we can to make sure they begin thinking about their condition and what it means. Educating children at young ages about taking regular medicine, needles and a life-long condition can be very scary for them but through using fun and interactive mediums and appealing to them in different ways we can tap into their imagination and begin to educate them subtly.”
NHS England has also launched Healthier You: the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme which started this year across England with a first wave of 27 areas covering 26 million people, half of the population, and making up to 20,000 places available.
This will roll-out to the whole country by 2020 with an expected 100,000 referrals available each year after. Those referred will get tailored, personalised help to reduce their risk of Type 2 diabetes including education on healthy eating and lifestyle, help to lose weight and bespoke physical exercise programmes, all of which together have been proven to reduce the risk of developing the disease.
The new @NHS twitter account will also see a patient with Type 1 diabetes taking over for the day on Monday to voice the experiences of people with the condition.