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Collaboration is key to the diabetes model of care

It’s fascinating to see how NHS England is tackling the challenges of diabetes care.

I have seen measures in development, which have now surfaced and are on the cusp of being ready to be rolled out in the coming financial year.

A debate has been gathering pace for a while now about the required expertise, training, appropriate support, and the holy grail of integration and its importance, when redesigning diabetes care.

Leaving aside the politics, the personalities and indeed issues of tariff, then diabetes care, on its own, isn’t that complicated a nut to crack.  It crystallises itself on a debate as to where exactly a specialist contributes most and where his or her role as an educator or support for primary care exists.

The Portsmouth Super Six model of care is one of those which tried to answer the million dollar question:  which bits of diabetes care need to be in hospitals?

In the main, it boils down to areas of care which need multidisciplinary care, access to investigations or are specific issues related to a hospital, such as antenatal care, inpatient diabetes to name just a couple.

The area of controversy, however, has tended to be the vast majority beyond the “Super Six”, and that question has attempted to be answered in areas such as Leicester, Reading, Ipswich and Gateshead.  What they’re doing in these areas is using the specialist as an educator, a support for primary care whether the specialist concerned is a doctor or nurse.

Various models have looked at virtual clinics, tele consults and data review.  Whatever it may be, the idea is to have advice readily available, focusing on individualised care and in turn helping primary care when it needs it.   Another question which stems from that is whether all patients with diabetes need the exact same care?  Unfortunately for me the evidence has never supported that; for example the care and support a 19-year-old Type 1 diabetes patient needs is fundamentally different from an 82-year-old frail Type 2 diabetes patient in a residential home.

The Super Six Model is by no means the holy grail of integrated care but local experience suggests two fundamental issues and principles which can and should form the bedrock of any diabetes care redesign

Curtailing the debate around what needs to “stop being in hospital”:  A lot of time is lost debating what should and shouldn’t be in the community.  A belief in “more in community” Is a laudable aim as long as the resource follows it, and the appropriate expertise is present to support primary care.  The bigger question is what shape this debate would have taken if the tariff structure was different

Strengthening ties between primary and secondary care: The whole point of going out and visiting GP surgeries has been to build relations and help primary care colleagues who are struggling with the demands from various quarters.  Looking past the titles or employer status – going back to the basics and meeting each other to discuss care has been a huge step forward for all concerned.

It is agreed by many that much needs to change, whether that be in attitudes, financial structures or indeed investments.  What is apparent is that the Super Six model gives us a starting point for a discussion about the role and responsibilities of diabetes specialists whether within or outside a hospital setting. Many versions of this theme are starting to emerge, that in itself is very encouraging.  If we were viewing this as a long term condition we would have to then look at the debate into tariff structures, whether payment by results is indeed a valid form or whether we look at areas such as a year of care tariff.

For me the importance is to know where we need to get to.  Whatever the views on Vanguards or STPs, the focus is clearly on organisations working together, not functioning as disparate bodies. This is not to be interpreted as which should be the dominant force in any area, but to help facilitate integration.  For that to happen we need to start with collaboration.

The Super Six Model binds acute and community providers into one pathway but a fundamental issue is to have the same team of specialists across the organisations.  There should be no place for isolated terms such as “community diabetologist” in the modern restructured NHS. The hospital is a part of the community and that should be reflected when designing pathways.  Specialists need to be able to work across pathways across the defined structured organisations, whether it be in a hospital or the community.

In my opinion there should be no acute or community diabetologist, we should simply be a diabetologist who brings specific specialist skills to bear in a hospital and be an educator where needed.

It isn’t necessary per se, to replicate the Super Six model of care but the principles are ones which should be addressed in the modern NHS.  For me the key to this change is within our own mind set and how willing we are to change and be part of a new system.

Partha Kar

Professor Partha Kar is National Specialty Advisor, Diabetes with NHS England and co-lead of Diabetes GIRFT with NHS Improvement.

He has led and delivered so far on (April 2016- till date):

  • Freestyle Libre being available on NHS -across country
  • NHS Right Care Diabetes pathway
  • Diabetes “Language Matters” document
  • Type 1 diabetes NHS England web-resource – on NHS choices
  • Introduction of Frailty into QoF treatment targets for diabetes care in NHS
  • Availability of CGM to all T1D pregnant patients
  • Diabetes Technology pathway development with multiple stakeholders
  • Setting up pilot projects for diabulimia treatment in London & Wessex
  • Introduction of Low Carbohydrate App into NHS Apps Library

Other work has involved input in updating of driving guidelines in relation to use of technology in those living with diabetes, helping to develop a virtual reality programme to improve hospital safety and starting work on increased mental health access for diabetes patients across the NHS

Dr Partha Kar has been a Consultant in Diabetes & Endocrinology at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust since 2008. He has been the Clinical Director of Diabetes from 2009-2015, being part of a multiple national award-winning department (HSJ Awards / BMJ Awards) due to its services and care provided.

He is the pioneer of the Super Six Diabetes Model which aims to deliver diabetes care differently and is recognised as one of the good examples of integrated care.

An avid user of social media such as twitter (@parthaskar) to engage with patients – and been recognised as a “Social media Pioneer” by HSJ in 2014.

He also writes a monthly blog for the BMJ, has a personal blog (“Sugar and Spice: Wish all things were nice”) and a podcast (“Sweet Talking”)

He has also been:

  • Co-creator of TAD (Talking About Diabetes) – TED talks from those with T1Diabetes
  • Co- creator of Type 1 Diabetes comic (Volume 1 and 2)
  • Setting up Type 1 Diabetes: Rise of the Machines – event on Closed Loops/DIY tech

Follow Partha on Twitter: @parthaskar

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