Imagine being able to take control of your health and your future wellbeing and turn it completely around, with the switch of a button.
Health and care staff in Greenwich, including GPs and public health leaders, have worked together to develop a programme which has seen a massive increase in the numbers of local people accessing support to prevent them from developing type 2 diabetes. People at risk are empowered to take control of their health, lifestyle, and future wellbeing.
Type 2 diabetes is a long-term condition that people can live with for many years, impacting on people, their lives, and their ability to live as independently and pain free as long as possible. Diabetes also affects some communities disproportionately more than others, in particular Black African communities.
One person who experienced this first hand was Moses from Woolwich who shared his story about how he turned his health around during lockdown by switching on his laptop.
Living a busy and packed life, Moses’ day was filled with the kind of commitments that many of us are familiar with; family, work, church, community and going to the gym. However, during lockdown things were set to change for both Moses and his family.
The start of the Covid pandemic in March 2020 saw the untimely and sad passing of his sister due to Covid. She shared the family home with Moses and his young children and had been living with type 2 diabetes, obesity and hypertension. As well as the emotional impact on him and his children, it got Moses thinking about his own health and he decided to visit his local GP to get checked out.
He explained: “Knowing that my sister had diabetes, I decided to get myself tested which showed that I was pre-diabetic borderline. So, they said, ‘Moses, it is best that you go through some preventative work and attend our workshops. See what tips and things you can learn. That way you can make sure that you don’t tip into becoming type 2 diabetic.’”
He added: “I was quite shocked because prior to this I’d been a very, very healthy and fit person. Going to the gym three times a week. But I suspect that for me during lockdown, like everyone else, I was sitting around not doing as much exercise and eating all the time.”
After seeing his GP, Moses started a 10-week online course which covered different topics, mainly diet, lifestyle, exercise and mental health and wellbeing. There was also a course booklet where Moses could add in his thoughts and a fortnightly mid-week check.
While Moses was referred by his GP, anyone can also refer themselves to the course just by going online at preventing-diabetes.co.uk
The course started in March 2020, at the same time as the first wave of the Covid pandemic spread across the country, so all the classes over the 9 weeks were held online. While this meant that there was never the chance to meet anyone on the course face-to-face, it did mean that the service could still go ahead safely while the country was in lockdown.
Commenting on the 9-week programme, Moses said:
“Possibly one of the reasons why I became pre-diabetic was that, not only we were eating probably larger amounts than usual, but also the kinds of types of foods. You know I’ve got young children, eight and nine. So, I suspect there’s a combination of the type of food we were eating, the sedentary lifestyle, and probably just general anxiety levels around Covid exacerbated it.”
The combination of his health tests, the untimely death of his sister, and his responsibilities as a single parent to his young children meant that Moses had reasons and motivation to change his lifestyle, and to make a difference to both his and his children’s lives.
As the course finished and the country started to emerge out of lockdown, Moses knew it wouldn’t be enough just to attend the course. He built on the changes to his diet and the exercise he’d done with his kids, like the Joe Wicks workout each day. But he missed running, which he used to do several times a week. In fact, in previous years, Moses had successfully completed marathons, including running the London Marathon twice, and he knew he’d have to be really focused to get back to that level of fitness and regular exercise again…and to maintain it.
Drawing on his experience and background, Moses was driven to raise awareness in his community about both Covid, and the risks around type 2 diabetes and other conditions, saying:
“Once I was on the course, I started informing friends in my community and my home country in Uganda that, you know what, this is a big killer. So, I was talking to a lot of people and reminding them that you need to change your lifestyle because diabetes will seriously impact you and possibly kill you, if you don’t.”
The good news for Moses is that two years after his original diagnosis of pre-diabetes, he booked himself in for a full health check with his GP and, as he celebrates turning 57 years old, he is in great health. His cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels are as they should be, and he is no longer pre-diabetic.
A positive legacy for Moses and his children is more than just the physical side of things, it’s the mental wellbeing and the resilience it’s brought to him and his family.
He said: “We, that is my children and I, buried my sister, just ten of us there because of restrictions. Then after that I went into the campaign that would help with COVID vaccinations, with diabetes on top of that. My children have done very well at school and emotionally they’ve come out very well balanced. I think overall our lives seem to improve all round, you know, in terms of activities, we’re doing the spiritual side and the physical side.”
Thanks to people like Moses, more people in Greenwich and across south east London are learning about their own risk of developing type 2 diabetes and are able to take control of their own health and wellbeing.
Greenwich now regularly features amongst the highest referring boroughs in south east London into the National Diabetes Prevention Programme (which identifies people at high risk of developing diabetes and supports them to prevent it). The local health and borough council teams share information on Facebook and Instagram in a way that is interesting and fun for people, like quizzes so people can see how much they know about their own diabetes risk. If people score 16 or more on this risk assessment, they can refer themselves to the National Diabetes Prevention Programme and they can do this without having to take a blood test or see their GP.
Why not try it out here?: Diabetes UK – Know Your Risk of Type 2 diabetes
The work of ICS partners in Greenwich including GPs, Royal Greenwich public health and Greenwich Health Ltd (GP Federation) saw an improvement of more than 320% in performance against targets in the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme in the borough last year compared to the previous one (2020/21).
People can now take the 9-week programme Moses completed in person. South East London ICS is improving this offer too by increasing the number of course venues and evening courses. They are also offering the diabetes courses in community languages opening it up to more people in the community and across a wider area too.
My kids are my world and everything in my life. That's why I changed careers. I've changed countries. I've changed professions, I've changed everything. And everything revolves around them.
Rose Café in West Norwood provides community-based care for elderly people living in Lambeth, and aims to improve health and wellbeing at neighbourhood level, with a particular emphasis on strengthening or forging new connections between community and health organisations.