Diabetes — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:20 am on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Commons) 10:20 am, 9th January 2019

I too congratulate my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes on this excellent debate. The contributions have shown that we could have spoken at much greater length, given the breadth of issues faced.

I will talk from a personal perspective. Two years ago I received a phone call from my doctor’s receptionist, who said that the doctor would see me at 4 o’clock. Not catching on, I thought that was somewhat strange as I had not requested an appointment. I explained that I was in the House of Commons and very busy. She said, “Well, how about 9 o’clock tomorrow morning?” I agreed to go along on Friday, thinking that perhaps there was some issue that was going to be raised as a Member of Parliament.

I had forgotten entirely that I had had a regular blood test following quite a serious illness. A few years ago, I was in hospital for the best part of a year, in and out, and at one point none of my internal organs, including my pancreas, was working. I was obviously on quite a lot of painkillers. One of the many things they had evidently said was that I could be diagnosed as diabetic in the future but, to be honest, during that period of my life I was pretty much out of it on painkillers, so I did not listen particularly.

I was completely aghast when I turned up at the doctor’s and he said, “You’re diabetic, and at the end of this meeting I will probably have to inject you with some insulin and you may be on insulin for the rest of your life, but there are other options.” In the end, he decided that he would try to manage it through other drugs initially and I never went on to an injection regime, but it was quite scary.

It was also, I thought, quite embarrassing. I felt rather guilty and perhaps stupid for having been obese. Ironically, because of my illness, I was quite thin having come out of hospital. I had lost about five stone in total, so I was not a typical case, but I had eaten too much and not exercised enough. I am now getting back on track and staying on track, but when, as Members of Parliament, something happens to us, we have an insight into what our constituents are suffering from and their experiences.

There was a call in the debate for the best possible solutions. I would argue that we need a lot more diversity and that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Diabetes is complex. A distinction has rightly been made between type 1, type 2 and juvenile diabetes, and while I have not spent the time on it that others have, there is a medical case for making further divisions in diabetes, particularly within type 2, for reasons that I suspect we do not fully understand.

On prevention, if I could have talked to my younger self and continued to exercise through my late 20s and 30s as I had as a child, I would perhaps not have the problems I have now. My diabetes is very much under control, and I praise the work of diabetes nurses around the UK, who have a little more time than the doctors and can coach people and point them in the right direction. For example, they mentioned a book to me, “Carbs & Cals”, which has pictures of typical meals and typical sizes and goes through the grams of carbs and the calorie intake—exactly like the type of poster that my hon. Friend Andrew Selous wanted to see in doctors’ surgeries.

We should have diversity because some things have worked for me and some things have not. The shock of being diagnosed as diabetic made me change my ways. For months I would not touch chocolate and I would have no carbohydrates whatsoever. I went on a course about diet for diabetics that took a slightly different approach, which I went on to adopt, counting carbs and managing things precisely. Personally, that did not work for me and abstinence from sugar or carbohydrates worked better, but maybe for others it is different.

Exercise, for me, has worked well. I am hoping to run the London marathon, but whenever I do something such as that I question it. If I speak to anyone who has run a marathon, they talk about the big meal beforehand and say, “Make sure you have plenty of carbs the night before—lots of pasta and so forth that will release slowly.” One of the benefits I find in doing that is that I understand a little more about how carbohydrates are broken down, not just theoretically, but personally, and how my body reacts to carbohydrates and sugar.

When I left the doctor’s surgery I had the prick test for glucose. I ended up having three different machines, one of which eventually linked up to my iPhone. I do not now need to do a prick test on a regular basis, but I find it useful as a way of understanding my short-term glucose as well as the six-monthly blood test that I do. Personally, as a type 2 diabetic, while I do not need to monitor my glucose on an hour-by-hour basis, I would find it useful to have something on me for a week so that I could see the effect of having a tiny bit of cereal this morning, or the difference in my glucose if I have had two glasses of wine the night before. What is the difference between running five miles and 10 miles? How many carbohydrates should I have to compensate? We need a lot more diversity in provision over time.

Having outed myself as a diabetic—as I said, one should not feel shame about it, but I did for quite a while—and spoken about it in the House of Commons, I hope that I, like a number of hon. Members, can be an advocate for diabetics across the country, understand not only my condition but those of others, and help to improve the situation over time. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings for raising this incredibly important issue in the House.