The Blog

Education, Education, Education

On World Diabetes Day I called for the government and the NHS to make education for people with diabetes a priority.

People with diabetes on average get to see their healthcare professional for about three hours each year but the other 8,757 hours of the year they are self-managing their condition on their own. Diabetes is a very complex condition and people often simply don't have the skills, knowledge or confidence to do it well.

In fact in a recent survey almost two in three (62%) people living with diabetes told us they don't fully understand the condition, nearly a quarter said they felt they don't know enough about the medicines they are taking, and 70% admitted they don't feel fully in control of their diabetes.

So why should that matter? Well the uncomfortable truth is that today and every day 65 people in the UK will die early from the condition and hundreds will face life-changing complications.

As well as 65 people dying prematurely from the condition each day, 20 will have an amputation, 65 will suffer a heart attack, 203 will experience heart failures, 78 will have a stroke and 39 will need dialysis or a kidney transplant. Behind these appalling statistics lie individual tragedies. These numbers will all be someone's mother, father, husband, wife, brother, sister or child.

And make no mistake this shocking roll call isn't going to change unless something radical is done. In the past 10 years there has been a 72% leap in patient numbers. There are now nearly 3.6 million registered patients with diabetes aged 17 and older - an increase of 137,000 in the last year alone.

We are facing a diabetes crisis. So instead of ignoring the problem we need to tackle it head on. At the moment the numbers of people receiving quality diabetes education is frankly woeful. In England just 2%of people newly diagnosed with Type 1 and 6% newly diagnosed with Type 2 are recorded as attending education. The figures in the rest of the UK are no more encouraging.

With the numbers of people projected to be diagnosed with the condition set to rise even further in the next five years Diabetes UK is calling on the government and NHS to address low take-up of life-saving diabetes education courses. I don't think it is pie in the sky to suggest a target of at least one in two people with the condition taking part by 2020. We need to aim high when the alternative - doing nothing - will only lead to more premature deaths and more life-changing complications.

Education can offer a lifeline to people, giving them the tools they need to manage their condition better as well as valuable support from others going through the same thing. In a Diabetes UK survey, almost 9 in 10 people who had attended a course said they felt more confident managing their diabetes afterwards.

Recently we spoke to Ross Taylor, 25, from London, who went on a course to find out how to manage his Type 1 diabetes better. He had been suffering from severe hypos - where his blood sugar levels were dropping without warning - causing him to go into seizures. As a consequence he'd fractured both his shoulders. Six months after finishing his course at King's Hospital in south London Ross says it has changed his life.

He said: "I now feel a lot more in control, more aware of what I'm eating, drinking and doing and how that affects my blood sugars. And thankfully no major hypos or injuries because of them. My HbaA1c is more on target too".

"The practical exercises we did like going for lunch or reading food labels made it much more real, and made sure you remembered things longer. Now when I'm doing exercise, going on holiday, drinking, I can look back and know the steps to take to keep my diabetes in check."

Ross admitted it can be hard to share something personal as diabetes.

"It's not something you often want to talk about - no one wants to be that guy talking about their medical issues - but it was really useful. We had a whole host of different people in our group, at different stages in their life and with different experiences with diabetes.

"The course has given me the tools to stay in control and can understand better why my blood sugars are behaving certain ways. Apart from better blood sugars I generally feel a lot more alert, without the exhaustion that comes from highs or lows. Less tiredness means more time focusing at work and enjoying free time with mates."

For me Ross's story perfectly highlights just how transforming an education course can be to someone's life. Now we just need to see many more people with diabetes getting that life-changing opportunity Ross had.

New government funding, such as the £40m programme to improve diabetes services in England, begins to recognise the scale of the challenge but will need to be sustained. There needs to be a real commitment to putting money into education in order to help prevent people developing complications and dying early.

We won't stop campaigning for this until people with diabetes are getting the education to manage their condition that they deserve. After all, as Ross clearly demonstrates, the more you know diabetes the more you can fight diabetes.

To find out more, or to watch videos about Type 1 or Type 2 courses and what you can expect from attending, please visit

Find out more about our education campaign by going to Taking Control.