There are many tragedies and worries through the COVID-19 crisis. But opportunities are also emerging for JDRF’s mission to eradicate type 1 diabetes and its effects. JDRF’s UK Chief Executive Karen Addington explores how the COVID-19 crisis could, and should, reshape type 1 diabetes management for people living with the condition – including the provision of new treatments and technologies.
The health and wellbeing of the 400,000 people in the UK with type 1 diabetes is, of course, JDRF’s immediate priority during the coronavirus crisis. We are also witnessing, across the NHS and beyond rapid, positive innovations. I think it is our responsibility as the charity focused on medical research and support for people with type 1 diabetes to speak up so that these positive changes can be preserved and built into ‘business as usual’ once the current crisis ends.
I was struck by a quote I read in The Times last month: “the NHS is transforming and embracing innovation at an astonishing pace in ways that look likely to outlast the pandemic”. This was from Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners. He also said that in the first weeks of the coronavirus crisis our health system has achieved “more than we have achieved in 20 years” in adopting new technology. Those of us who have had the recent convenience of emails or virtual appointments with our clinical teams might agree!
I am proud that the type 1 diabetes community is one of the UK’s most digitally advanced patient communities. Many of us have felt that the NHS has a lot of catching up to do. I wonder if the COVID-19 crisis and the lockdown might help type 1 diabetes healthcare go digital permanently?
I know that many people living with type 1 diabetes are experiencing frustrations and worries with disruptions to our clinic appointments at the moment while diabetes clinicians are busy caring for patients with COVID-19. But I am excited to hear from people who are reporting new access to remote health care, via telephone appointments, video call appointments and email interactions with diabetes specialists and GPs.
Professor Partha Kar is NHS England’s clinical lead for type 1 diabetes and a leading champion of medical technology provision. Partha joined us at JDRF’s virtual Type 1 Diabetes Discovery Day on 28 April and told us that he has been able to keep clinic appointments with his type 1 diabetes patients throughout the crisis by connecting with them remotely. He told us he believes it should no longer be unusual for a patient to have access to their clinician’s email address.
As we look to science to guide us, we can see that evidence about how virtual clinics compare to traditional face-to-face clinic appointments is as yet inconclusive. But the changes we are seeing could, long-term, mean life with type 1 diabetes involving less travel to appointments, easier fits around work, childcare, care of older family members and other commitments. Perhaps technology could do at least some of our travelling for us and enable our clinicians to find ways to help many people manage type 1 diabetes effectively without being in the same room.
I believe everyone who wants and would benefit from type 1 diabetes technology should gain access to it. Back in February, our Pathway to Choice report made recommendations for increasing access to wearable type 1 diabetes technology via the NHS. These included a call for healthcare professionals to receive mandatory training on type 1 diabetes technology.
The report highlighted a recommendation from the most recent National Diabetes Insulin Pump Audit, “consider whether there is adequate understanding, capacity and capability” among clinicians “to explain and provide pump treatment to people with type 1 diabetes”.
I have heard more stories about how people with type 1 are making use of new digital systems, but I wonder what other new digital systems and skills are emerging within the NHS? Could these make it easier for diabetes healthcare professionals to get up to speed with the technological tools that can make life with type 1 easier?
I am determined that JDRF will find out. We know this crisis will end. And as we get through it, JDRF will be here, as always, pushing for what people living with type 1 diabetes need and deserve.