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Lancashire GP behind national effort to highlight the importance of getting language right

GP, Dr Rahul Thakur, is urging other healthcare professionals in Lancashire and South Cumbria to read a new guide that has been published to help them navigate the often complex world of diabetes care and treat patients living with the disease sensitively.

The launch of Language Matters coincides with Diabetes Week (11-17 June) and this year’s theme tackles the issue of difficult conversations – aiming to make it easier for people to have tricky or awkward discussions with medical professionals, friends or family.

The new advice, developed by NHS England in partnership with seven other organisations and charities, including Diabetes UK and JDRF, explains how the language used by healthcare professionals can have a profound impact on people living with the disease, and those who care for them – both good and bad.

There is lots of evidence from around the world as to how language affects those with diabetes and the guide sets out a number of practical examples, based on research and supported by a simple set of principles.

It makes clear  that good use of language, both verbal and written has the power to lower anxiety, build confidence, educate and help people to improve self-care, while reminding healthcare professionals that poor communication can stigmatise, upset, undermine self-care and have a detrimental impact on patient care.

Dr Rahul Thakur, a GP in Colne and clinical lead for diabetes at both NHS East Lancashire and NHS Blackburn with Darwen CCGs, said: “There are nearly 46,000 people across Lancashire who are believed to be at high risk of developing the potentially life-threatening condition – we want to do all we can to support as many people as possible to prevent Type 2 diabetes from taking hold.

“We need to educate people and make sure they are aware of the help available so that they can control their condition. I would advise local residents to familiarise themselves with the symptoms of diabetes, so they can arrange an appointment as soon as they think there may be an issue.”

Dr Partha Kar, Associate National Clinical Director, for diabetes at NHS England, said:

“Diabetes Week provides a timely opportunity for us to raise the issue of language used in the treatment and care of patients. How we interact with those living with diabetes is fundamental to the management of their condition – the tone and words used – all have a bearing on how they look after their diabetes.

“Language Matters provides useful advice on things such as alternatives to commonly used phrases which may cause offence to some – it is a practical handbook for healthcare professionals, designed to be used and referred to in a clinical setting, rather than sit on a shelf.”

Chris Askew, Chief Executive at Diabetes UK, said: “Whether you’re living with a diagnosis of diabetes, or have a friend or a loved one who is, it can be hard to know how to start tricky conversations about living with and managing this serious, complex condition. It’s important we make sure that people talking about diabetes feel safe to explore the issue, and that first and foremost that they are being treated and respected as a human being.

“We’re proud to have been part of the development of Language Matters; it sets out clear guidelines for healthcare professionals for how to put the person’s needs first, and to consider the impact of the language they use as well as the intention.

“Positive conversations can open the door to better care, better treatment at school and in the workplace and a better quality of life for everyone. This week (11-17 June) marks Diabetes Week and is the perfect opportunity for all of us to look at how we talk about diabetes and to ensure that everyone in the diabetes community feels supported and understood.”

Karen Addington, UK Chief Executive of JDRF, said: “Healthcare professionals do an amazing job. But small words can have a big impact – especially when someone is struggling with their Type 1 diabetes. That’s why we welcome NHS England’s Language Matters document.”

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