NHS: Diabetic Services — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:49 pm on 29th November 2012.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat 3:49 pm, 29th November 2012

My Lords, first, can I say how much I appreciate the opportunity granted to me by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, by his entering this area? I enter with tremendous humility as well as deep concern because many have spoken in a personal way. They know the problems while we on the outside-we are possibly not going to be there long on the outside-do not know in depth what the real problem is, while they face this situation day after day.

Last year, on a wet night, I was crossing Westminster Bridge. We had just finished here, so it must have been after 10 o'clock. On the other side, just where County Hall used to be, a man was lying in the pouring rain. What should I do? Was he bait? Would other men attack me and mug me? Or was he desperately ill and in need of attention? I did not know. Rightly or wrongly, I went on my way, but others might have been more Christian than me.

We need awareness of the various conditions that people face. There has been a series of television advertisements about stroke, and HIV/AIDS had a tremendous media and television presence. Do we not need something-television adverts-so that we, the ordinary public, are made aware of the emergency that some people might encounter? Low blood sugar can induce something that might be thought of as drunkenness, but we do not know that. We must learn. Some sort of advertising is necessary in order to make us aware because, as my noble friend Lord Rennard said, 3 million people are now suffering from diabetes. I tried to work out what that means in Wales. It means 150,000 people in Wales, or about 5,000 or 6,000 people in each parliamentary constituency. It is a massive number that we have to take great notice of. We could produce adverts for television about what to do if you see somebody ill and have some idea of what the problem might be.

A good place to start is with children in schools. I am told that most children who have diabetes have type 1 diabetes. Other children in their school should be made aware that there is a problem. Teachers must also be aware so that they are able to be confident in the way that they deal with children who have problems. We are told that there are 26,500 children under the age of 15 with type 1 diabetes. In the home, in school and in the playground, youngsters with diabetes have my tremendous admiration: little youngsters who need to inject themselves and check exactly how many carbohydrates there are in every meal they are eating. For some youngsters, it is extremely difficult, so they need all the support we can give them.

I am trying to pronounce a word here: ketoacidosis. I am glad I have got it right. Twenty-five per cent of newly diagnosed children of all ages suffer in this way, and it is a life-threatening situation, and 35% of children under five years of age. We know the consequences. They have been mentioned: amputations, kidney failure and blindness. To tackle them early, as has already been urged upon us, is essential. When we are looking at expenditure in the NHS, in the long term, we would deeply regret doing anything to undermine this. You can reduce taxes, but not at the cost of threatening health and life. The lives of children come first.

Children with diabetes are often excluded from school trips, physical education and sports. A school can be afraid of admitting children with diabetes, although I am told that 52% of schools have such children. Only this morning, I was told of the common assessment framework, in which every child, every individual, particularly those who might have problems, is assessed and has individual concern and treatment for whatever might be their particular need. It is important that fellow pupils as well as teachers and other staff can recognise children with these conditions.

Some schools hold assemblies in which the children and staff are informed as to exactly what the situation is. Some schools also issue help cards to children, information telling them that if their diabetic classmate is showing symptoms, they should please take some action. Of course, a certain number of teachers are given courses on what they have to do if any child is in diabetic difficulties.

The recommendation of Diabetes UK is that every school should have people who are well versed in the relevant needs, and that secondary schools should have a school nurse. I have heard recently of the cuts made in school nursing levels. Is this a cut that we can really justify? Is it not time that we should assess this according to the need of the particular school? It is also suggested that there should be a nurse for a cluster of smaller schools, such as junior and infant schools: somebody who is well versed in and able to tackle these problems. In rural Wales, you could not have a nurse who would reach a school in time. That means that it is even more important that teachers and other school staff know exactly what to do when an emergency arises. We must all find the best way possible to ensure that no child suffers without somebody being there who can help them.

I will be visiting on Wednesday of next week a school with disabled and disadvantaged children; that is, those who are not able to cope quite as well as others. These are a particular problem: a child who possibly cannot read, or inject him or herself. How are we helping them? I am sure that this needs to be another of our priorities.

School meals need to be labelled in such a way that their content is easily understood. How much insulin is going to be needed in order to cope with this meal? That information is often difficult to understand. A youngster of seven, eight, nine or 10 years of age is trying to work out this complicated arithmetic to know exactly how much insulin to inject. What is the sugar level? Is it low or high? Somehow we need to signify that on every meal, wherever it is.

I am glad that some of the fast food chains, like McDonald's, are providing the necessary information on their food tray papers. Other shops, hotels and others should follow suit. We are glad about what is happening. There is a lot more to be done. I am at least grateful for the opportunity to contribute in some way to this debate.