The Big Interview – Chris Askew
This month we’ve spoken to Diabetes UK’s chief executive Chris Askew for The Big Interview.
Mr Askew has told The Diabetes Times his thoughts on what needs to change within diabetes care, his future plans and given his thoughts on the UK’s new prime minister having type 1 diabetes.
What are your priorities at Diabetes UK?
As an organisation we want to continue with what we are doing. Tackling variation in care, making the case for structured education, ensuring access and making sure people are encouraged to take it up.
We also want to continue with our Putting Feet First campaign and with helping to ensure optimum in-patient care in hospitals.
We will also be continuing to work around our Make the Grade campaign to make sure children with type 1 diabetes get the support and care they need at school.
What’s your biggest achievement so far at Diabetes UK?
It’s a bit early for me to suggest so I would prefer to talk about the organisation’s achievements. In the last year we have funded 33 new research grants, received 23,000 calls to the helpline and had more than 1 million log-ons to our online type 2 diabetes risk score.
Other achievements include the progress being made on our campaigns, including Make the Grade and Putting Feet First as well as helping to ensure there are diabetes strategies in places in all four countries.
It’s not an achievement as such but meeting and talking with a huge number of people connected to the organisation – it’s part of my job which I really enjoy.
What is the biggest challenge faced by the diabetes community today?
We have just come out of Diabetes Week where we have been working to set the record straight. We used the week to dispel some of the myths and misunderstandings around diabetes, including the causes of type 1 and 2 diabetes.
We also have been addressing lazy reporting in the media with new guidelines for broadcast journalists.
Timely, then, that there have been a number of reports in the media that some MPs questioned whether type 1 diabetes could kill her.
What an extraordinary misunderstanding, right across the country there are people living with diabetes day in day out that are proving that diabetes is no barrier to living life to the full.
Having a prime minister with type 1 diabetes is a testament to that fact.
What would your one message to healthcare professionals be?
The one message would be around education. Healthcare professionals should know what education is available in their area and make sure people with diabetes get access to it.
This is crucial that people with diabetes are signposted and have access to support and education. We have a section of our website targeted at healthcare professionals.
As a condition that costs the NHS 10 per cent of its budget, do you think diabetes gets the proper priority it deserves from Jeremy Hunt?
Diabetes is one of six key clinical areas that are being promoted by NHS England through the CCG Improvement and Assessment Framework.
But we are talking about a time of crisis in diabetes. We have a huge rise in type 2 diabetes associated, but not exclusively, with lifestyle.
We are seeing a huge variation in care and treatment, which is staggering to understand, and also we have a huge misunderstanding of diabetes in the general public.
When we talk about long-term conditions and what worries people the most, cancer tops the list but diabetes is towards the bottom.
Coming from a cancer charity I know how devastating cancer is but I don’t think there is the right understanding about diabetes. The general public is not aware of the risks, of the causes and the complications.
What do you think to the new and updated Eatwell Guide as well as the campaign being mounted by the National Obesity Forum?
Our advice is evidenced-based and we don’t advocate one single diet. We certainly don’t think that promoting one single diet is right for a population, it’s about the individual.
What would you do if your budget doubled?
Invest it in research. Last year we invested £7 million into research equally between type 1 and 2, but in the last few years this amount hasn’t really moved.
Having come from a cancer research charity, I was surprised to find that for every pound spent treating diabetes only half a penny is spent on research.
From funding the first foot clinic to supporting islet transplants, Diabetes UK has a proud track record of being part of major breakthroughs in diabetes care and we want to be part of the next one.
What is the future of diabetes in the UK?
Understanding type 2 prevention. We are now part of The Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme alongside NHS England and Public Health England. It is being rolled out across 25 per cent of the country.
Again, we also come back to the importance of education to help people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes to manage their condition. People with diabetes need the right support and knowledge to help them manage their condition.
How do you think the EU referendum result will affect diabetes care and Diabetes UK?
We are beginning to work with lots of other charities to work through the implications, which remain unclear at this stage. There are some immediate concerns, for example EU funds for new research.
The other concern if we do have a recession then that could impact the donations we receive.
What is Diabetes UK doing to increase access to diabetes technology, including insulin pumps?
It’s a huge burgeoning area and I know from discussions at the top of NHS England that they are keen for early adoption of new technology.
We have recently seen advances in the artificial pancreas, which we have supported. We are keen to support companies looking to create new technology to improve diabetes care.