The new scheme, which is called an ‘information prescription’, is being launched today after trials in Yorkshire and London.
It means that patients might leave their surgery with a piece of paper listing some lifestyle changes they should make rather than the more familiar prescription for medication.
Diabetes UK, which is launching the scheme in partnership with the NHS and private providers, says currently only 36% of people with diabetes meet the 3 crucial targets for blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose. Failure to do so significantly increases the chances of complications such as blindness, amputation and kidney failure.
Under the scheme, when a patient misses one or more of their targets, an alert will flash up on their GP’s computer advising them that their patient could benefit from an information prescription comprising tailored advice for how to manage their diabetes more effectively.
Dr Farooq Ahmad, a GP at a practice in Colliers Wood in South London, has tested the system and tells us that the idea of a prescription offering helpful advice can be just as valuable as a packet of pills. “Patients really like those green pieces of paper that we give them,” he says. “Hopefully when they go home they’ll read it. Patients who actually ‘own’ their own illnesses and are pro-active tend to do better.”
He says the targets selected for a patient with diabetes do not have to be set by the doctor. “The targets can be pretty much chosen by the patient,” he says.
The sort of advice likely to be offered might be the benefits of joining a walking group or testing blood glucose levels more often.
Barbara Young, chief executive of Diabetes UK, says in a statement: “These plans can play an important role in empowering people to take control of their condition, which is really vital because people with diabetes only see a healthcare professional for a few hours a year, while the rest of the time it is them who is responsible for managing it.”
In a statement, Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for obesity and diabetes, says: “The personal cost to individuals and the financial cost to the NHS of diabetes complications are immense. Information prescriptions are a really positive development that will enable primary care to help people with diabetes better understand and take ownership of their diabetes, and so empower people to avoid developing complications in the long term.
“We know that primary care is under a lot of time pressure, but the design of these allows best practice around care planning and goal setting to be done during routine care.”