Take control

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Patient advocate Chris Baty says it’s important to know your healthcare rights when it comes to having a long-term condition like diabetes.

In October 2015 I was proud to co-launch, amid much fanfare, a new strategy for diabetes with the then Minister of Health.

The launch of Living Well with Diabetes: A plan for people at high risk of living with diabetes 2015-2020 took place at Middlemore hospital, in South Auckland, arguably the diabetes heartland of New Zealand.

As President of Diabetes NZ, I was a member of the National Diabetes Services Improvement Group. This committed, energetic and expert group, which was convened by the Ministry of Health and chaired by Dr Paul Drury, developed a world-class plan to help people with diabetes to live well, keep well and stay well.

It was underpinned by key documents like Quality Standards of Diabetes Care and the Australasian standards of care for children and adolescents (see www.health.govt.nz/diabetes ).

Fast forward to 2019 and two-thirds of the way through the strategy’s five-year timeframe, I’m frustrated that little has changed in terms of meaningful diabetes care and outcomes.

While I know that change takes time in a complex system like health, the fact remains that despite all the hoo-ha back in October 2015, it was all mouth and no money. No extra funding has been provided for implementation of the strategy. It has become apparent that any changes in care, including prevention, must come from existing budgets.

It is fair to acknowledge the few district health boards (DHBs) that are developing some exciting, person-centred diabetes initiatives, and I congratulate them. But should issues like access to quality care be determined by the priority, or otherwise, the local DHB gives to diabetes?

While we should never back away from collectively reminding health officials of the priority and importance of good diabetes care – especially in the face of growing demand – good care is about keeping well. Not one of us wants any of the too-much-talked-about diabetes complications!

What can we do? We each have the right to the cornerstone of good diabetes wellness care which is a diabetes annual review (previously known as Get Checked), and in my opinion we must assert that right by asking – demanding if necessary – for one at least annually. Don’t wait to be offered it. Let’s take control of our own good health by reminding ourselves it is very possible to live well over a long time with diabetes.

Simple tests exist to detect early damage to our feet, eyes, kidneys, nerves and heart. These tests are easy to carry out anywhere – marae, churches, as well as in doctors’ rooms. And if any changes are detected, treatment can be started straight away. Everyone with diabetes has a right to receive retinal screening, careful foot checks, heart and kidney checks in a timely way so we can keep as well as possible and remain functioning members of our whānau and communities.

Sadly, not all general practices will offer these reviews to you free of charge although I would argue they should. Do ask what the situation is in your practice though. It is a fact that those of us enrolled with a GP and coded with a long-term condition – which diabetes surely is – do receive extra funding in recognition of this. If the diabetes annual review is not directly funded via your DHB’s Diabetes Programme, it may be possible for other funding sources to cover the cost of it. Ask your GP about Care Plus funding. General practices generally want to support those wanting to help themselves and self-care for their diabetes in the best way they know.

The reality is that if we don’t ask, we never get! And if lots of us ask we may just be surprised by what we do eventually get. None of us can help getting diabetes, but once we have it there is stuff we can do to help ourselves, including expecting the “system” to work with us to stay well


During her tenure as President of Diabetes NZ, Chris Baty was a strong advocate at national level for all people affected by diabetes. She still works as a health consumer advocate at a regional level in her home city of Auckland. She has lived with diabetes for most of her life.


**This article first appeared in the Autumn 2019 issue of Diabetes Wellness magazine. Subscribe Diabetes NZ today to receive your copy.

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Jo Chapman