Diabetes patients and NHS staff face extra Coronavirus challenge

08 June 2020

Diabetes is a very real issue for thousands of people across our area. The current pandemic has made it harder for both patients, and the NHS staff who care for them, to control and treat it.  

In our area this has seen an increase in telephone, video and other forms of support – including some patients arranging to meet specialist nurses in parks - at a safe distance of course. 

This Diabetes Awareness Week, we spoke to Marian McCullagh, a specialist diabetes nurse supporting patients in Barking and Dagenham, and asked how her team is managing in these extraordinary times.  

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to keep people out of hospital,” says Marian. “Three people in our team have been redeployed due to Covid so it’s a big workload for two of us, with lots of ill, vulnerable people locally. 

“I like to see people face to face as observation is my best skill and how I was taught. Education is crucial and it’s difficult to completely trust what a patient says to your over the phone, so I’ve brought a few people into Porters Ave surgery to make sure they are using their insulin correctly.” 

For Marian’s patients, the recent hot weather has added to the challenges of managing diabetes during the Coronavirus outbreak. 

“Your sugar levels can get low in the hot weather and some patients aren’t adjusting their insulin levels correctly,” she explains “They may also have issues because at the moment, due to not working in the pandemic, we have patients who don’t have the money to eat properly. You need your carbs to help your glucose levels – it’s a food group that lots of people seem to struggle with. 

“I’m also thinking about meeting some patients in the park as others have done. I get up early to walk my dog and have thought it would be good place to hold a group – safely of course.” 

Aside from her diabetes support group, based at Porters Avenue, and her plans for the park, Marian is also pounding the borough’s streets. 

“I recently saw a patient who didn’t speak English and had been in A&E with abdominal pain and I looked at her case notes and was worried so I went to visit her at her 19th floor flat. Turned out she was mixing up her insulin and her blood glucose meter was broken. I got her booked into have her bloods taken, but her daughter rang me next day at 7.30am to say she was very unwell so I advised her to give insulin and she was admitted – but we avoided her going into a coma.” 

The local NHS has put extra measures in place so that people living with diabetes can get the care they need to self-manage diabetes during the pandemic. 

Our GPs have a record of award-winning innovation when it comes to diabetes care which has meant services were well prepared to support patients when lockdown began. 

We have also extended the availability of the diabetes helpline for anyone with insulin-dependent diabetes to help with any concerns during this difficult time - Diabetes UK’s support line: 0345 123 2399. 

Marian’s diabetes top tips:

  • Hot weather – watch your insulin and sugar levels
  • Check your sugar levels before getting behind the wheel of a car
  • Don’t forget the carbs - you need carbs to help your glucose levels
  • Make use of www.diabetes.org.uk and the helpline: 0345 123 2399