|Greek sunset, June 2014|
I'm still working five days a week, being paid for about five hours on that fifth day doing general dietetics on the wards, which means mostly nutrition support. The hospital is a small one with only six wards, and holds patients who are not acutely ill and/or who live in the area. They are generally old and not actually needing further treatment but cannot go home until some sort of provision is arranged to make sure they can cope (a 'Package of Care'). Nearly all those who need dietetic input are not eating or drinking well, usually because they have dementia. I absolutely hate it. I have two weeks to go before the Dietitian who has been off sick is due to return, and I shall do everything in my power after that to be completely unavailable for this type of work in future, although there will be a lot of moral pressure to 'help out' if a similar situation happens again.
My real job is still very interesting. I have managed to start two people on the very low carb plan, but unfortunately one did not return for the follow up appointment and wasn't answering the phone when I rang. My first Structured Education course for people with Type 1 Diabetes finished this week. This is designed to give people a lot of information and practical experience of how to best manage their diabetes, and we run it one day a week for four weeks. We had eight attendees, and all of them seemed to get a lot out of it. I found it a little stressful to have so much responsibility for delivering material that is so critical to the course.
At least half of the course is about carbohydrate counting. This is a skill that is fundamental to good control of Type 1 Diabetes for those who want to have the flexibility of eating what they like when they want to. Teaching carb counting is a core skill for a Diabetes Specialist Dietitian, and I would say I have reached an intermediate skill level - not too bad, but I've only been doing it in earnest for a few years. Nearly all of the people on the course have had diabetes for much longer than that.
Despite my nervousness, it went quite well, although I think I can improve with practice. We cover all sorts of ways of estimating the carbohydrate content of food - using food labels, weighing food and using reference tables, using apps, websites and pictures, and plain and simple educated guesswork. The part that makes me a little bit uncomfortable is that while my estimates are based on my experience with a number of different people as a day job, I don't actually act on the data and inject insulin, so I don't get any personal feedback about the accuracy of my estimates. When I get it wrong, it's someone else that suffers. I take this responsibility very seriously, so I often lose sleep worrying about whether someone I've seen in the day is going to end up with very high or very low blood glucose as a result of something I've said.
As well as the course and the individual consultations, there has been some discussion in the Trust and the Clinical Commissioning Group about funding to expand the very low carb programme that we offer. This has caused some controversy, because we haven't any solid evidence for its value in our service. We have lots of anecdotal evidence of patients who have found it life-changing (in a positive way), and we have a spreadsheet with lots of data, but the data hasn't been analysed and there's been no data collection from those who haven't found it helpful, nor have we sought views from anyone who may have experienced negative effects.
There are a number of healthcare professionals in our Diabetes service who are positively messianic about the plan, and they are all in favour of the expansion in funding because they have seen so many people find it beneficial. Having joined the service so recently I am more sceptical, and feel that we must carry out some analysis of our data to provide evidence of benefit and investigate any negative aspects properly. Our Team Leader has very sensibly defused the situation with an eminently rational proposal, including the view that we should be offering people choices rather than putting all our energies into selling the low carb idea.
Whenever I have met up with other Diabetes Dietitians, I have asked them their views on very low carb diets. So far I haven't met any that are offering anything like our plan, but they have all been very interested in hearing about what we do. I would like our next stage to be a proper audit of what we have, if not a research project culminating in a peer-reviewed publication, but I'm not volunteering for the job.