Prevention programme helps patients keep diabetes at bay

A man has been able to prevent developing a chronic condition thanks to a 30-minute conversation.

After a routine eye test highlighted a change to one of his eyes, Darren Rix was sent for a blood test which later revealed he was prediabetic.

While the 50-year-old’s blood sugars were higher than normal, they were not high enough for him to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes – although he was at a high risk of developing it.

Type 2 diabetes causes the level of sugar (glucose) in the body to become too high.

While it can cause symptoms such as excessive thirst, tiredness and needing to pee a lot, the condition can also increase your risk of getting serious problems with your eyes, heart and nerves.

Pictured from left to right: Dietetic support workers Natasha Long, Nur Eda Sevinc, Daisy Williams, Keira Pritchard, Shelley Owen, Luke Tucker, deputy head of nutrition and dietetics Carol Brock, dietetic support worker Elinor Davies, diabetes prevention dietitian Rachel Long and dietetic support worker Athira Thankachan.

If it is not treated or managed correctly, complications can include heart disease and stroke, retina damage, kidney disease and foot problems.

It is crucial for people with diabetes to attend their blood tests and reviews to prevent possible future complications, even if they are feeling well. There may be changes happening to your body that you are unaware of – so regular checks are crucial.

But there is also plenty people can do to reduce the risk of developing the condition including simple things like being physically active and having a healthy diet.

A photo of Darren as he previously looked

“It was totally out of the blue,” Darren, from Pontardawe, said.

“I had an eye test and the optometrist noticed something on the back of my eye so I was referred for a blood test.

“I was called into my GP practice and told that my blood sugar levels were high.

“It was a bit of a shock. If I had looked in the mirror, I wouldn’t have thought I was prediabetic.

“The GP asked me if I would be willing to have a discussion with the Diabetes Prevention Programme team, to which I agreed.”

Pictured before: Darren Rix was told he was prediabetic.

The All-Wales Diabetes Prevention Programme, which launched last year, has already seen positive results.

After being identified as being at risk of developing type 2 diabetes following a blood test, the programme offers patients a 30-minute intervention with a specially trained dietetic support worker.

The intervention discusses topics such as physical activity, healthy eating and promotes other lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation and alcohol reduction.

Based on work undertaken initially in the Afan Valley and North Ceredigion, there are plans for the programme to be available in all eight of the Swansea Bay clusters – with a dietetic support worker based in each.

Carol Brock, Swansea Bay’s deputy head of nutrition and dietetics, said: “It’s a patient-centred consultation.

“It uses patient-centred goal setting, where the patient is asked what is important for them.

“The dietetic support workers can also signpost patients to community services and support which may benefit them, such as the National Exercise Referral Scheme, walking groups, weight management services and the Help Me Quit team for help with quitting smoking.”

Darren went to a consultation with a healthcare support worker at his GP practice, who encouraged him to increase his exercise.

He added: “I went along and had a chat and found it interesting.

“They got me into doing more exercise as I didn’t do much before apart from walking the dog.

“I also started swimming as a result, which I still do now as I really enjoy it. I make sure I fit it in around my shift work.

“I also made food substitutes here and there to my meals and I cut back on my sugary treats.”

12-months after their consultation, patients are invited back for a follow-up discussion with the dietetic support worker, after having another blood test.

Rachel Long, the health board’s diabetes prevention dietitian, said: “When patients come in for the follow-up consultation, we ask them about the last 12 months and if they have been able to implement any of the lifestyle changes and goals that were initially discussed.

“We have a general discussion about how they have been feeling and then discuss their more recent glucose levels.

“If they have reduced, we encourage them to continue with their lifestyle changes.

“But if they’ve been finding it difficult to implement the changes, we offer further support within that session to try and help them move forward.”

To date, more than 1,350 patients have attended an intervention with a dietetic support worker.

While still in the early stages of inviting them back for follow-up appointments, out of 63 patients who were seen last year, more than half have had a reduction in their glucose levels.

One of those includes Darren who was told during his follow-up consultation that the lifestyle changes he introduced resulted in him no longer being prediabetic.

A photo of Darren as he looks now

“In my latest appointment they told me what I’d done had been great and I’d brought my weight down,” he said.

“I was told I’m no longer prediabetic and that I should carry on doing what I’ve been doing.

“I’m grateful to the optometrist for sending me for the blood test and also to my GP for referring me to the programme.

“I don’t think people realise how serious diabetes can be.

“There are probably people out there who don’t realise they could be prediabetic.

“I don’t know how many years I had been prediabetic and I probably still would be now without the intervention.

“Sometimes you need that bit of a shock to get you to do something about it.”

Pictured after: A year on, Darren has been told he is no longer prediabetic.

Rachel added: “Until now a lot of patients hadn’t been made aware that they were at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“So, when they do come into the consultation, it’s been a little bit of a relief for them to be able to speak to somebody and have that advice.

“We’ve also had good success in engaging with the GP surgeries and working with them as well. They have been referring patients to us which is great.

“Prevention is better than finding a cure and the follow-up data so far is showing promise and heading in the right direction.”

To find out if you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, follow this link to the Diabetes UK website where you can use the free Know Your Risk tool.

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