Professor Eleni Hatzidimitriadou discusses how people with diabetes can help to self-manage and support their condition with an innovative new programme.

One of the most known lifelong conditions that most of us have heard about is diabetes. In the UK, almost 3.7 million people have been diagnosed with the condition and this number is expected to rise to five million by 2025.

What all types of diabetes have in common is that they cause people to have too much glucose (sugar) in their blood. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease whereas Type 2 diabetes is associated with lifestyle factors. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% of all diabetes cases in the UK and is a major cause of premature mortality, with around 22,000 people with diabetes dying early each year in England, mainly due to complications of the disease.

There is no known cure but it can be successfully managed by a combination of medication, healthy lifestyle and physical exercise. Although most of its symptoms have a significant impact on physical health over time, it is now widely accepted that diabetes will also radically change the way of life of those having the condition as well as those living with them.

One of the major challenges for diabetics is constant planning and attention to their ways of eating, exercising and living as the condition affects all aspects of their home and work lives.

It is often linked to ‘bad’ lifestyle aspects such as being overweight or obese, and those who live with the condition may feel stigmatised, isolated and misunderstood by healthcare professionals, relatives and friends. They may feel they are to blame for having the condition and are constantly ‘told off’ and that they are responsible to manage it successfully if they want to live longer. Current therapeutic interventions, in addition to medical treatments, put emphasis on patient education to enable self-management of the condition. Although this is a major shift in diabetes care from a purely medical reactive focus to an enabling and preventive mindset, what may still be missing from these programmes is that they are often ‘imposed’ on patients by professionals instead of being co-produced and involving patients meaningfully.

A different example in diabetes education is the innovative 12-week patient support programme, called DWELL (Diabetes and WELLbeing) programme, funded by EU INTERREG 2 Seas Programme. It involves partners from the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. It aims to enable patients with Type 2 diabetes in these countries to access tailored support, empowering them to self-manage their condition and improve wellbeing. The DWELL programme consists of ‘pick and mix’ activities on education, physical activity, healthy eating and wellbeing, and supports participants to discover what will help them to maintain their physical and mental health while managing their diabetes. Motivational interviewing and peer support through patient ambassadors are the main tools of this intervention. A team of researchers from the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing at Canterbury Christ Church are leading the evaluation study of this innovative programme. The evaluation study will produce comprehensive evidence on all key areas: staff training; patient outcomes; cost benefits and programme process.

Professor Eleni Hatzidimitiadou is Head of Research and Enterprise in the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing.