Diabetes education is an essential part of good blood sugar control, and avoiding long-term healthcare complications.
For each individual, there is a vast amount of condition-specific information necessary for successful diabetes management.
What type of diabetes education is available?
People with diabetes need to know what to do if something goes wrong, how to adjust their diet, exercise, lifestyle, medication or insulin.
A range of diabetes education programmes now exist in the UK, including DAFNE, DESMOND and X-PERT. These diabetes courses are structured to empower diabetes patients to manage their own condition successfully.
Which diabetes course you enrol on may depend on which type of diabetes you have, how recently you have been diagnosed, and your current management approach.
There are bespoke education courses for type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, newly diagnosed diabetics and those using insulin pumps.
When people talk about diabetes education it generally refers to courses which help people with diabetes to learn to manage their condition.
Courses for type 1 and type 2 diabetes should be available in most parts of the country. For people with type 1 diabetes, the courses are designed to teach carbohydrate counting and insulin dosage skills. These courses are often intensive courses which may last for anywhere between half a day and a week.
For people with type 2 diabetes, courses are often based around understanding the condition and how to make lifestyle changes.
These courses tend to be run in sessions either over a day or a period of a few weeks. In some cases, diabetes courses will be run for people with both types of diabetes and will typically involve a number of sessions over a few weeks.
Ask your doctor, diabetes specialist or diabetes nurse to find out which courses may be available.
Some well known diabetes courses are:
- DAFNE courses - for people with type 1 diabetes
- DESMOND courses - for people with type 2 diabetes
- XPERT courses - for people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes
The courses available are often similar to one of the above formats. At DAFNE style courses for people with type 1 diabetes you’ll learn:
- How to work out or closely estimate the carbohydrate quantity of foods
- Rules to help you set up your background insulin
- Rules to help you with your bolus (meal time) doses
- How to correct high and low blood sugar levels
- How best to manage sugar levels during exercise
- How to cope with periods of illness
At courses similar to DESMOND, you can learn:
- How the body responds to what we eat
- How blood glucose testing can help with understanding diabetes
- Making food choices
- Getting activity into the day
- Learning about medication
One of the benefits of the courses is the chance to meet others who are in a similar position and find out how they deal with diabetes. The feedback on diabetes courses is usually very good and the course providers are often keen to take patient feedback into account.
How do I get enrolled onto structured diabetes education?
NICE recommends that every newly diagnosed diabetes patient should be given the opportunity to get diabetes training, and most patients agree that they need help to manage their condition.
Despite the NICE recommendations, data from charity Diabetes UK shows that only a small number of newly diagnosed patients are provided with a place on a diabetes education course.
A report into the number of people receiving diabetes education in 2011/12 showed that only 1 in 30 people newly diagnosed with diabetes were recorded as having attended a diabetes education course. 
If you are interested in taking part in structured diabetes training, speak to your GP, diabetes specialist nurse or diabetes consultant. You may need to wait for an available slot but the NICE guidelines state that you should be offered the chance to go onto a course if you have not done so already.
If you have previously attended a structured education course a number of years ago but feel you would benefit from refreshing your knowledge, most GPs should be happy to help you enroll onto a course.
Education for insulin users and non-insulin users
The course you get enrolled onto may depend on what courses are running in your area. Whilst there are differences between some of the diabetes courses available, many of the courses share similarities in their approach and the knowledge provided.
For non-insulin users, such as people with type 2 diabetes that have been recently diagnosed, the DESMOND course is one of the courses that is highly recommended.
The X-PERT course has been designed to be appropriate for people with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
The DAFNE course has been specifically designed towards insulin management for people with type 1 diabetes.
Structured diabetes education courses are usually highly regarded by people with diabetes that have attended them and can contribute to improved HbA1c results, fewer episodes of too high or low blood glucose levels, improved confidence in controlling one’s health and better quality of life.