Barbara Young, AKA Baroness Young of Old Scone, joined Diabetes UK in November 2010 and brings to the role a wealth of experience, having worked with the Institute of Health Services Management and having been a King’s Fund International Fellow. She is also a Trustee of the Imperial College Healthcare Charity and was instrumental in establishing the Care Quality Commission as Chairman.
You’ve been in post just over a year now. What do you think is special about Diabetes UK and the work that it does?
Diabetes UK is special in lots of ways, but mostly because we try lots of things to make an impact on improving care for people with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and helping people reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
We provide a big range of information, support and advice, we help people with diabetes get in touch with each other to share experiences, we campaign to get the NHS to improve services and we bring together healthcare professional and people with diabetes in one organisation that can really represent informed views on diabetes for the benefit of people with diabetes. We also have some pretty special staff who know lots and work hard!
After starting at Diabetes UK have you learnt anything about diabetes that has surprised you?
I have been an NHS groupie for 40 years (I know I don’t look that old – do I?), and I think lots of people even in the NHS are staggered when they learn how diabetes is rising, how serious a condition it can be and how difficult sometimes to live with day to day, how much of the NHS budget it represents.
Yet how much agreement there is about what services should look like. But still the NHS doesn’t seem to give diabetes the sort of priority that cancers and heart disease and stroke and dementia get. We are campaigning to get a fair deal and proper priority for diabetes services.
Balancing the needs of type one and type two diabetics is always a difficult job; how does Diabetes UK try to get the balance right?
You are right – it is difficult. We are increasingly trying to ensure that when we talk about diabetes that we clarify the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 and increasingly we want to tailor our support and communications more specifically to individuals depending on which type they have or are involved with. We are absolutely committed to doing a good job for people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and indeed some of the other conditions like gestational diabetes.
Diabetes UK seems to spend a lot of time correcting inaccuracies in various media stories (on cures/vaccines/diets/etc). Is it frustrating that the media can’t seem to report diabetes issues accurately?
We will probably have to continue to work hard to correct the sorts of stories that news editors and headline writers want to put forward in a way which sells papers rather than is absolutely accurate! We do a lot of correcting but we also work to inform journalists and the health journalists are becoming quite well informed. We are producing a guide for journalists to try to get some basic ideas straight.
Do you think our current gloomy economic times are having an effect on healthcare provision, research and so on?
We are increasingly concerned that the economic squeeze is putting pressure on, for example, the availability of patient education, on the numbers of diabetes specialist nurses and on sometimes inappropriate discharge to primary care from specialist care. If you would like us to campaign against poor quality care, become a Diabetes Voice. The details are on our website.
Speaking of funding, what’s your take on the provision of insulin pumps by the NHS? The UK lags way behind Europe and the US in terms of percentages of pump use.
We campaign to get the level of pumps up from the current unacceptable level and have had some success recently in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. The government guidance about access to pumps is good. We need to overcome the barriers of lack of funding and particularly lack of expertise and ongoing support.
What are the most exciting areas of research Diabetes UK is funding at the minute?
Diabetes UK funds a wide range of research covering all aspects of diabetes. Work on the artificial pancreas – in adults who are eating a large carb meal with some alcohol and in pregnant women with Type 1 diabetes – is particularly exciting as is work on the immunology of Type 1 diabetes which shows real promise of helping prevent the condition in the future.
Closer to home we are interested in seeing the results of a new project looking closely at the care of people with Type 1 when they leave home for university. From the Type 2 angle we are keen to see more research into the understanding how to put Type 2 diabetes into remission.
Does Diabetes UK engage with international organisations such as the ADA or JDRF to ensure research is not being duplicated or ignored?
Yes, Iain Frame, our Director of Research has worked with the James Lind Alliance and other diabetes charities to look at how unmet patient needs in Type 1 diabetes can be translated into research questions. All funding decisions are quality assured with international experts to ensure that research is not duplicated but can build upon previous results.
What are the biggest challenges facing Diabetes UK in the next few years?
The biggest challenges are raising the profile and priority of diabetes, and ensuring that everyone in the UK has the 15 essential care measures that everyone with diabetes has a right to expect. We need to sort out the postcode lottery and get government to implement the standards it has set. That doesn’t need more money, just the existing 10% of the NHS budget already spent on diabetes spent more wisely.
Is the future bright for diabetics in the UK?
If we stick together and push hard, it will be!!