Insulin Discovery Centenary

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 1st September 2021.

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Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

I thank Emma Harper for bringing the debate to the Parliament. I was really interested to see the motion on the agenda and to hear Emma’s contribution this evening, knowing about the expertise that she brings to the subject from her role as a nurse and, as I have learned, as a patient.

I also have some experience of working with patients who use insulin. I spent many years working as a dietitian in the NHS and, in my early career, I covered diabetic clinics along with a specialist diabetic nurse and other members of a multidisciplinary team. Diabetes is a condition that patients manage and live with, and I learned so much about the adaptability, resilience and humour of people following a diagnosis of such a life-changing condition. The experience also gave me a lifelong admiration for the dedication of NHS staff and how they build relationships with patients who face having to overcome enormous hurdles during many years of treatment. I give a big shout out to all those staff, from the porters to the caterers, the medical and clerical staff, and particularly to my colleagues among the allied health professionals, which is a group of incredibly dedicated health service workers.

As the motion points out, insulin is one of the greatest medical breakthroughs in history. It changed the lives of many millions of people by changing the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes from a death sentence to a life worth living. Before insulin, it would have been unusual for someone to live past two years after diagnosis, so 100 years of insulin is definitely worth celebrating.

There are so many elements that members could bring to tonight’s debate, including diabetes diagnosis, diabetes treatment, and diabetes as a life. However, in such a short debate, we only have time to raise one or two issues. In the short time I have, I want to talk a little about tackling the inequalities around diabetes care, particularly the link between inequality and diabetes outcomes.

I thank Diabetes Scotland for its briefing, which reminded me of the realities of living with diabetes, particularly for someone who comes from a more deprived background. Although insulin means that type 1 diabetes is no longer necessarily a death sentence, type 2 diabetes is still on the increase, and the day-to-day complications in heart health, eye care and foot care mean that it is an incredibly hard condition to live with.

It is important to acknowledge that living with diabetes can be relentless, and managing it can feel overwhelming. Managing lifelong conditions can take its toll on individuals and their families, so it is important that we, as parliamentarians, acknowledge our role in fighting for services and for every possible advance to be made, and made accessible to all.

The poorest people in Scotland are more than twice as likely to have diabetes at any age than the average person, and once they have the condition, those who live in the most deprived homes are twice as likely to develop complications through diabetes than those who are in less deprived areas. Those stark figures show the reality for so many. Where someone is born and where they live unfairly lays out their future, particularly when it comes to health.

Tackling the root causes of health inequalities has to be key right here in the Scottish Parliament. We need to tackle inequality in income, access to suitable housing, and access to healthy food. We need to acknowledge the role that we all have in the Parliament and we need policies that transfer power and wealth. The great achievements in diabetes care can continue, but we have to work hard in this place of power to ensure that the factors are in place to give economic justice to all.

The briefing from Diabetes Scotland gives us the stark figures. Rates of diabetes are 80 per cent higher in the most deprived communities in Scotland. That is unacceptable and we must act. Let us celebrate 100 years of insulin, and let that remind us that things can change. With the correct structural changes in society, we can head towards Diabetes Scotland’s vision of a world in which diabetes can do no harm.