Posted by on Tuesday 8 March 2016

Diabetes UK Professional Conference 2016 - Education, Individualisation and steps in the right direction

Between Wednesday and Friday last week I found myself in sunny Glasgow immersed in the insanely intense experience that is the annual Diabetes UK Professional Conference. I had been lucky enough to attend last year as one of Diabetes UK's bloggers and tweeters. This year Diabetes UK wisely ran a competition to throw the net a little wider for patients interested in attending the event and spreading the word. Thankfully they had the good sense to ignore my application and selected five people who did a significantly better job of sharing the content of the conference with the #doc (Diabetes Online Community) than I did last year. Hats off (alphabetically) to Andy, Bob, Charlotte, Ellie and Helen - you did an amazing job. In particular, Andy Broomhead has really put the work in covering many sessions of the conference in a series of excellent blog posts. Ignore this turgid waffle and go and read them instead - they are far better.

Undeterred by not making the cut with DUK, I contacted the lovely folks at Abbott Diabetes to ask whether they would be prepared to sponsor any patient attendance to the conference. I was delighted when they said that this was going to be a possibility, and was subsequently asked if I would be prepared to share some thoughts of my experience as a patient who has used Freestyle Libre off and on for a year or two.

And so it was that I hopped on a plane early Wednesday morning and was able to make the opening sessions of the conference in the architecturally-spectacular SECC in Glasgow. The Diabetes UK Professional Conference really is quite hard to describe. At least this year I was a bit more mentally prepare for its scale. There are upwards of 3,000 people from all over the world who specialise in diabetes, and everywhere you look people are making connections, comparing notes, absorbing new research and knowledge and generally seeking to see, or create, or develop better diabetes care. The programme is so packed full of sessions and opportunities that however much you try to cram in you are left with the feeling that you have missed out on really good stuff. Additionally, having been to a few events over the last year or two I am beginning to find the concourse a more hazardous environment - particularly if timings between sessions are tight. It's all too easy to bump into someone you've met before and grabbing a 'quick five minute' catch-up can leave you scurrying to your next session and having to creep in at the back with the apologetic shrug of a guilty latecomer.

I cannot possibly do justice to all the excellent sessions that I saw over the three days, so instead here are a few edited highlights.

Overall themes that struck me: Education; individualisation of care; leveraging (ugh! sorry) apps and technology; empowering and engaging young people; treating people, not numbers.

New outcome trials in type 1 diabetes
The opening plenary session on the first day included three talks, one of which was Simon Heller presenting results from the REPOSE trial (The Relative Effectiveness of Pumps over MDI and Structured Education for Type-1 diabetes) which is due for publication very soon. Essentially, REPOSE has shown that pumps, on their own, make less difference than might be supposed. Yes they *are* more flexible, yes they *are* more precise and offer additional techniques and possibilities such as extended boluses and temporary basal rates - but as Simon Heller said, "You can't take someone with a high HbA1c and say, 'You need a pump, that will fix it', because it simply isn't true." His argument was that as good as the technology is, people need a lot more help, support and training in managing their own diabetes in order for that technology to work well. People can do very well on pumps, people can do very well on MDI - but it is the help and support they have received in making better decisions that will make the biggest difference. It also makes me wonder whether, for some people, approval for pump therapy forms a sort of catalyst to re-examining their day-to-day management strategies. And what T1 care really needs in the UK is more engaged, better supported and individually encouraged patients who are equipped to wrestle their own particular diabetes monster as best they can.

Everyone's second-favourite rabble-rousing superstar endo Partha Kar summed this up quite nicely in his round-up blog post:.
It isn't about the latest super insulin, it isn't about the flashy technology, it isn't about the "cloud", it isn't about Apps or offering education programmes... it's only about one thing- YOUR ability as a professional to engage and communicate with the patient- move away from the "how's your blood sugars?" to "how are you"... till that day, we will not be able to improve outcomes - however much resource we magic up.

Colin Dayan then spoke about peptide immunotherapy (more on that later) followed by Rob Andrews and Parth Narendran presenting results from the EXTOD trial (exercise in type one diabetes). One result of the trial that really struck me was that when polled the majority of HCPs felt confident to advise around exercise and type 1. However when those same professionals were tested with a detailed questionnaire, they were often not able to give reliable information in response to the questions. is a resource that aims to offer good information for heathcare professionals and to support patients with type 1 seeking to exercise.

Apps and web-based technology: fad or future for diabetes care?
A topic quite close to my heart this one. I was gutted to miss Nick Oliver sharing about automated dose adjustment (that bloomin' concourse again!) but hugely encouraged to hear from patients and HCPs at both Kings (Geraldine Gallen, Imogen Lee) and Newham (Mark Norman, Shanti Vijayaraghavan) about their experiences of 'virtual clinics' using Skype and other web-based technologies to support people with diabetes wherever and whenever they need it. A more flexible, less attendance-at-clinic-based-approach improved engagement, patient satisfaction and outcomes, particularly with young people. To be honest it sounded very like being connected to the #DOC, but with added 'doctoriness'.

Lastly Andy McQueen and Deborah Wake went on to describe the successful 'My Diabetes, My Way' project in Scotland.

Glucose Monitoring in Diabetes
Another selection of three talks. Andrew Farmer spoke about self-monitoring in type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately his studies always seem to come down on the side of 'no' for the general T2 population, and always talk about 'adherence to diet' rather than transforming your diet by 'eating to your meter'. Interestingly David Owens who chaired the session asked "is there a group of patients outside the guidelines who are willing to use SMBG to change their behaviour?" to which Prof Farmer did concede, "there is no evidence at a population level, but if someone says it really helps - then it is open to try it out". Sadly I was right at the very back of the auditorium, too far away from the microphone and wasn't able to ask about Dr Farmer's reaction to Jane Speight's interesting paper on the STEP study which concludes that structured testing for T2s not on meds can be very beneficial. This certainly seems to be borne out by experiences of people I see on diabetes forums who are able to reduce or eliminate medication using SMBG to define a diet that their body is able to metabolise properly by experimentation rather than guesswork or 'adherence' to what someone else says they should be eating.

The session on deciphering CGM data by Iain Cranston was probably my favourite of the whole conference. I'd like to go into that in rather more detail so I'll cover it in a separate post.

Finally for that session Lalantha Leelarathna spoke about emerging technologies, bolus calculators, Libre, CGM and encouraging results from sensor augmented pump and artificial pancreas trials.

In the exhibition hall
Later in the afternoon I gave the first of my 10 minute talks about the ups and downs of juggling type 1 and how I have been using the Freestyle Libre as an occasional part of my toolkit for the past few years. Slightly unnerving just having to start talking on the Abbott stand with people milling about, but just as they had for the brilliant Peter Hammond, people soon began to stop and listen to my rather less edifying wittering and a small crowd formed.

One other intriguing discovery on day one was a stand for a new blood glucose monitor (the Keya Smart), due to launch in the Summer (the UK being first in the world) which simultaneously measures blood glucose and ketones on the same strip from the same sample. Cynically I have to say I assumed that the strips would be priced perhaps halfway between 'normal' BG strips and the significantly more expensive blood ketone strips. However, the people on the stand suggested approximately £15 a pot - which is fairly average among BG strips. I'm not one who seems to struggle with ketones, and I am quite content with urine strips, but the possibility of ketone monitoring alongside each BG test could be hugely reassuring for anyone who has struggled with DKA. The meter offers a traffic-light style readout through green, amber and red to alert you if ketones are present and worsening - so you can instantly tell if you BG is simply annoyingly high or if you need to be taking more drastic action/considering A&E. It will be interesting to see if the product lives up to the hype when it launches.

Day two

Immune Pathways in Type 1 Diabetes: will they lead to a cure?
Mark Peakman's mind-bending Dorothy Hodgkin Lecture picked up where Colin Dayan had left off. All I can say is that it made a great deal of sense at the time, but really the science is way beyond me. It seems they can already identify people who will go on to develop Type 1 Diabetes at some point with some certainty, even in infancy. The tantalising possibility is to use peptide immunotherapy to alter the errant immune system action and prevent the onset of type 1. The signs are very encouraging, but (almost inevitably) still at a very early stage.

Chaired by Pratik Choudhary and Jackie Elliott, these 6 short talks covered many aspects of hypoglycaemia, brain function, risk, inpatient experience and models of care. One extraordinary and very unexpected statistic related to the average age of people admitted to hospital with Severe Hypoglycaemia. I would have assumed that the challenge lay primarily with children, or perhaps young people and teens. However the data presented clearly showed that the distribution is shifted towards elderly patients, often those living alone. I can't imagine how frightening this would be. However a new model of care developed in the East of England, including a 'single point of contact' had made significant progress in reducing repeat-caller rates and with increased referral to education has provide significant savings both in terms of money (more than enough to pay for itself), but more importantly the major cost in terms of quality of life.

Individualising targets in diabetes: NICE or not NICE?
Of course I was not able to resist this discussion about the role of NICE guidance in informing diabetes care. Chaired by Nicola Milne and Paul Newman, four speakers offered their opinion on the role of NICE guidance. Laura (ninjabetic1) gave a wonderful patient perspective covering structured education, test strip allowances, targets and inpatient care. Many good things in the guidance, but how many are being done? Whether the new tighter HbA1c guidance to avoid complications might induce feelings of judgement and failure.

Brian Frier from Edinburgh then gave some harrowing accounts of people being treated to inappropriate glycaemic targets. Chasing potential long-term benefits for the avoidance of complications in elderly patients gradually introducing treatment on top of treatment until they ran the risk of falls or injury related to hypoglycaemia. QoF came under a good deal of scrutiny, particularly in the way it discourages individualisation of care.

David Millar-Jones, a GP from south Wales dissected whether the type 2 guidance was fit for purpose. The published version had come a long way from the initial consultation draft he said, but there were still question marks over whether it could be easily used in real-world practice clinics.

Lastly Partha Kar offered his thoughts on whether the Type 1 guidance was realistic, or simply a utopian fantasy. He made it clear that he felt that the guidance itself was excellent, but asked the more difficult question of what the outcome of the publication was likely to be, particularly in the light of less-than-rosy National Diabetes Audit reports for Type 1. Whether the guideline production machine was actually able to achieve much in the cash-strapped reality of the 21st Century NHS.

This was probably one of the most lively sessions I attended with many questions and comments being made at the end of each of the talks. We were fortunate that Stephanie Amiel the hugely respected chair of the Type 1 guideline development group was there to clarify one or two points. And I may have accidentally stood up at the end to offer a few thoughts of my own, and to confess to the lower A1c target which was, after all, mostly my fault.

There was much to be encouraged about during the conference. A genuine desire to see diabetes outcomes improve, to share and promote better ways of doing things and to make tangible progress towards more people living better with diabetes.

Here are a few quotes that really resonated with me during the three days.

All in all a fantastic time and lovely to be able to meet up with so many faces old and new. Lis, Laura, Sandie, Charlotte, Ellie, Helen, Emma, Sophie, Dani, Hannah, Jackie, Becky, Stephanie, Andy, Bob, Peter H, Partha, Pratik, Pete D, Kris, Jonathan, Neil, Sacha, Sheldon and many more I know I have forgotten. Here are a few of us gathered in the bar of the Crowne Plaza on Thursday evening.

Disclaimer. Abbott Diabetes kindly paid for my travel, accommodation and entry to the conference. They also paid a modest honorarium to cover the time taken to prepare and deliver my short talks. I was not asked to say anything in particular and if I thought the Libre was terrible I would have said so. I have not been paid to write this post or any Tweets relating to the conference. The chance, as they say, would be a fine thing.

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