Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Diabetes UK Annual Professional Conference 2012: Forwards with a Backward Glance...

They say that past experience can influence the future and there was definitely a flavour of this in Glasgow this year. Over 2000 health professionals from around the globe gathered at this annual event for a cornucopia of clinical and scientific updates, professional networking, product exhibitions and of course socialising! This conference is a fixture in our calendar and this year we had the honour of presenting a main session entitled ‘patient centred practice: what it really means’.

The sense of retrospect came mainly from the named lectures: these are peer-nominated invited lectures in recognition of the contribution made in a particular field. The lectures themselves are named after people the organisation wishes to honour personally. By definition, the speaker looks back on their work and describes its importance and value. Two examples stood out for us this year: the Janet Kinson Lecture was given by a speaker who emphasised how much maths is needed for living with diabetes, for example for carb counting and calculating insulin pump rates,  and how a lack of maths ability can hinder diabetes management (other sessions described diabetes education courses which are starting to include maths lessons alongside the diabetes lessons, to help with this)

Another was the Arnold Bloom Lecture, which looked at the development of DAFNE, an education programme for Type 1 diabetes, through the determination of a group of professionals to emulate European models of teaching about diabetes. However, the current picture is that the UK is still short of the availability of places on this course and other similar ones, so there is still much to do going forward.

Looking to the future, a number of reports were published at the same time as the conference. These were both timely but moving, since they inevitably showed gaps in services. In particular we noticed the report on the gaps in structured children’s services, including psychological care and transitional care. This stood out because the presentation that launched the report contained video clips of parents and young people who ‘told it like it is’. Many eyes filled with tears at the bravery of a mother recounting how she had been told at clinic that ‘we only deal with the medical side of diabetes’ when she sought help for the huge emotional tsunami that had engulfed the family’s life since the diagnosis of her son’s diabetes. Another report included the variation by geography in the number of amputations for diabetes- related food and leg complications, and concluded that the lowest rates were found where services were structured and resourced properly. In a way, none of the information was new, but what Diabetes UK have been able to do is continue the fight to highlight the massive importance of these issues to individuals as well as populations and we salute them for this unwavering mission.

One very noticeable and unarguably new aspect to the conference was its colour! Diabetes UK have changed their logo and branding recently* and instead of a sea of blue and pink and the familiar pink hummingbird, the 21st century DiABETES UK had arrived! This took a bit of getting used to, but 3 days in the ‘conference bubble’ made it feel a lot more normal. The sight of 150-plus fun-runners in the new style T-shirts, gathered bright and early on one of the mornings to run 5 kilometres round the conference venue, also added to the sense of recognition of the new colour and logo.

Other ‘snapshots’ from the conference which we felt give some clear messages for today and for the future, included:
  • A recognition of how difficult it can be to manage diabetes day in, day out – the reality of self management is HARD WORK!
  • How technology is really contributing to making life with diabetes easier, including the latest apps for carbohydrate counting, and insulin pumps
  • How even the newest insulins’ profiles don’t always match exactly the timings of a rise in blood glucose levels after food, making it still tricky to achieve recommended levels
  • 2 presentations on the subject of listening well, including the quote from one ‘listening is a healing and therapeutic agent’
  • The symposium about Diabetes UK’s Peer Support telephone and email helpline**

And what of our own presentation? We were delighted that so many people attended – over 50 – considering the time slot, which was at the end of the 2nd very busy day at conference. All those present took part in the activities we had designed, including a multiple choice quiz to work out the most person centred statement and a worksheet to share in groups how they could improve the environment in which people experience clinics and surgeries (for example how they are welcomed on arrival) as well as the consultation itself. Many good ideas and points were raised and discussed, including the memorable contribution from one participant at the end: ‘this has really made me wonder if I am as person centred as I think I am, I am definitely going to make changes’. One lucky participant also won one of our workshops in our prize draw at the end of the session and we are really looking forward to providing this later in the year.

The conference seemed to be a great success and we came away even more inspired and ready to work on the issues revealed by the research presented, and provide even more useful information and resources to meet the needs identified. Thank you Diabetes UK!

*         www.diabetes.org.uk
**         www.diabetes.org.uk/peer-support