Diabetes Alliance visits Guyra Medical Centre

MEDICOS: The Hunter New England Health Diabetes Alliance visited the Guyra Medical Practice on Wednesday. Photo: Nicholas Fuller
MEDICOS: The Hunter New England Health Diabetes Alliance visited the Guyra Medical Practice on Wednesday. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

New England has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the country, but patients have little access to specialists.

This week, as part of its Diabetes Alliance program, Hunter New England Health sent diabetes experts up from Newcastle to visit the region - including Guyra.

They visited the Medical Centre on Wednesday, the first time the local practice had participated in the program.

"What this really means is that patients living in Guyra who need to see a specialist don't have to leave Guyra," Diabetes Alliance program officer Morag Joseph said. "They can see the specialist in their local doctor's practice with their regular GP sitting right next to them."

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Endocrinologist Dr Julie Liu and diabetes educator Marian Hawker sat with practice head Dr Thampapillai Jeyakumar and nurse Julie Harris to help eight patients manage their diabetes with medication, diet, and exercise, and discuss treatment options.

The day also gave the Guyra staff more skills to treat their other diabetic patients.

The HNEH visited Uralla on Tuesday, and educated Tamworth's practice nurses on Thursday.

The Diabetes Alliance program began as a pilot in Newcastle in 2015. Until then, diabetics were referred by their GPs to see specialists in the city - which could involve long travel, paying for accommodation, and the specialist sending a letter the GP may not receive, read, or understand, Dr Liu said.

"We recognized that we were getting too many referrals more than we can see in our clinics, and 90 per cent or more of the diabetes are managed by GPs, not by endocrinologists. It was important to impart what we know and our awareness of diabetes to the GPs so that they can manage it."

The program aims to visit all 330 GP practices across the Hunter New England. So far, it has visited nearly 100 practices - including Armidale, Glen Innes, and Inverell in previous years. The team will return to New England in April for six-month follow-ups.

Since the program began, Dr Liu said, 40 per cent of patients at high risk of hospital administration and complications has reduced to 5 per cent in the six months between the initial clinic and the follow-up clinic six months later.

Rates of both diabetes type one and two are higher than average in the region, Dr Liu said. The reported prevalence is 10 per cent; Dr Liu suspects the real figure is between 12 and 14 per cent - or about 90,000 people.

Australia's official figure of known diabetics is a much lower 5 to 6 per cent, although many more haven't been diagnosed. Their GPs haven't screened them, because sufferers don't feel unwell until it is too late.

"Part of our program," Dr Liu said, "is to improve screening and get GPs to recognise to remember to screen, but also for patients to come in and be screened. Most diabetics early in the disease will have no signs. That's why it's important to go to your GP and be screened because you can feel perfectly well - and still have diabetes."

The general populace should be screened every three years from the age of 40; Indigenous people from the age of 18. High-risk groups (people with a history of gestational diabetes; who are overweight; who have had a heart attack or a stroke; or who have pre-diabetes) should be screened yearly.

Symptoms include tiredness, increased thirst, increased urination, recurring infections, and visual problems.

The Diabetes Alliance model has been extended to cardiovascular and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.