Diabetes is a self managed condition. You live with it 24/7 and make decisions about how to manage it during that time. If you’re lucky, you receive help, support and learning, both informal and formal, from your nearest and dearest, other people with diabetes, diabetes health services and organisations. But it’s still yours every day.
Campaigns like the recently launched ‘Taking Control’ by Diabetes UK highlight how important the education side of things is, helping people to understand more and learn the skills to make those daily decisions. ‘SD Comments’ has talked many times about the tiny numbers of people who actually receive such learning opportunities, even though they are recommended for everyone, So, we’re really pleased to see this campaign get off the ground, support it wholeheartedly, and wish it every success. There is just one thing, however…..
…and that is, the first sentence of the introduction to the campaign reads ‘..people with diabetes only spend around three hours with their doctor, nurse or consultant. For the other 8757 hours, they must manage their condition themselves’. This implies that when someone with diabetes is consulting, somehow the responsibility for their diabetes belongs to the health professional they are with.
It’s not deliberate, but this is another example of what might be called ‘unconscious paternalism’ – the idea that it’s ok for ‘patients’ to do their own thing unless they are under the jurisdiction (ie in the consulting room) of a health professional.
Apart from being at odds with the personalised care policy, the push for greater collaboration between health professionals and people with diabetes and promotion of self care, this assumption also makes the mistake of thinking that the health professional being consulted actually knows what is best for the person. They may be valued experts in diabetes, but not in living with diabetes and particularly not in an individual’s life with diabetes, not on that day, in that hour, or ever. Nor should they try or expect to be.
What’s needed is for this oft-trotted statistic to be reflected upon. Is this really what we want those numbers to mean? We suggest not. It’s perfectly valid to count the hours (or lack of them, some would say) that someone spends with a health professional, It’s also perfectly valid to consider how well these hours are used to promote and support self management and daily decision making. What’s not valid is to perpetrate the unconscious but well-rehearsed assumption, however well-meant, that really, it’s the health professional who matters most, who is somehow ‘in charge’
People with diabetes are perfectly capable of looking after their diabetes within a consultation as outside it, 8760/8760. The job of the consultation is to reflect and work together on the experiences these hours raise for the person themselves, so that they are equipped to make each one of them a success
Diabetes UK’s Taking Control Campaign