Service pressures put diabetes patients ‘at risk’

The long-term health of thousands of diabetes sufferers is being put at risk after a leading hospital pushed out their annual check-ups to 18 months due to pressures on the service.

Service pressures put diabetes patients ‘at risk’

Patient advocacy group Diabetes Ireland issued the warning after St Vincent’s University Hospital confirmed it has been forced to lengthen the wait for the routine examination as a result of junior doctor workload issues and surging patient numbers.

Under best-care plans, anyone with uncomplicated type 2 diabetes should still undergo regular check-ups to ensure their condition is not worsening.

While this form of diabetes — which affects almost 200,000 Irish people — can be tackled by exercise and dietary changes, if it is not addressed it can ultimately cause stroke, heart attack, eyesight problems, and kidney failure.

Although the St Vincent’s annual check-up system did not reach international best practice guidelines that those affected should be examined every four to six months, it was believed the service would pick up any worrying developments in a person’s condition.

However, after the decision to stretch the check-up system out to 18 months, Diabetes Ireland has warned patients are now potentially being put at risk.

“You should be concerned if you are not getting a regular type 2 diabetes check-up to review your control of [the condition],” said Dr Anna Clarke, the group’s health promotion and research officer.

“It should really be a four-month check-up, because otherwise complications can arise.

“Over 60% of the health budget on diabetes is spent on complications [caused by a person’s condition deteriorating], so there is a real need for people to review their condition regularly,” she said.

While Dr Clarke advised anybody affected by the St Vincent’s change to go to their GP for a regular blood check, she said this may not be possible for everyone due to the €50-€60 charge to attend a GP clinic — meaning some people’s health may deteriorate to dangerous levels before it is flagged by medics.

The concern was raised after consultant endocrinologist at St Vincent’s, Dr Ronan Canavan, said the decision to stretch out the check-up system means diabetes sufferers will receive “less than ideal care” from the service.

Speaking to trade newspaper Irish Medical News, Dr Canavan said that due to attempts to reduce the shift length of junior doctors under the European Working Time Directive, and patient numbers surging by 200% in 20 years, there has been a 30% reduction in the number of junior doctors attending diabetes clinics at the hospital.

“I think it is stretched to where we are trying to provide what might be just about minimal care,” he said.

In a statement, the hospital said: “Earlier this year, it was decided by the diabetes multi-disciplinary team that routine, uncomplicated reviews would be moved from 12 months to 18 months.

“This decision was taken in order to help clinics operate efficiently while dealing with increasing patient numbers. Non-routine reviews have not been affected.”

- Diabetes Ireland helpline: 1850 909909, Monday-Friday, 9am to 5pm.

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