Last July, on a rainy summers day, my dad was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. What I didn't know at that time was that he joined 699 other people that day also diagnosed with the condition. Unbelievably, one person every two minutes is diagnosed with the condition in the UK and it is set to increase in the coming years to 6.25million from the current figure - 3.8million.

Diabetes is one of the fastest growing health threats (Diabetes UK)

After researching the condition and talking to my friend (who happens to lead on Diabetes for a CCG in England) I discovered that just 5.9% of people diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes attended structured education on managing their condition in 2015. Even taking into consideration possible under reporting, and a lag in referrals because of poor awareness, participation in diabetes education is still low in the UK. I wanted to find out why.

I am aware, and so is my dad, that poorly managed diabetes can lead to serious health complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney disease and amputations leading to disability and premature mortality. I wanted to know why people diagnosed did not want to learn how to prevent these awful things happening to them.

Most newly diagnosed patients are offered (or should be offered) the opportunity to attend a course or workshop on Diabetes, usually run by an experienced Diabetes professional such as a nurse or practitioner. My dad was offered a full day workshop after his diagnosis. Which was great. But here is where the great idea falls down (hence the 5.9% uptake). After conducting some research on non-participation we found that the reasons vary from a lack of awareness and poor referrals (you need a good GP to tell you about it and then get you on the course), poor logistics (some of the courses take a day to complete and this is hard to fit into already busy lives, and/or hosted miles from your home), poor timing (can take months to get on one of these workshops - my dad had to wait weeks) and overall there was a general aversion to attending a group session. For some, the prospect of a face to face group session discussing private issues, or what some considered a failure to take control of their diet and lifestyle, can be highly off-putting.

My dad is retired, so the date and time offered by the NHS was ok. But if he was in work (he was a lorry driver before retiring), he would not have made that course I am pretty certain of that. During his working life he was offered smoking cessation countless times but the appointments were never available at a time or location that suited him. Taking time off work was always unpaid, so health was not prioritised.

As a social marketer and Google Square, I want to change this. I run an agency with a mission to design and deliver change programmes and over the last 12 months I have been working with the team here at Social Change UK to design and develop digital 'change' products and one of those products in the making in a Diabetes Virtual School which we plan to launch this summer.

We have talked to people with diabetes and we discovered that many patients would welcome a digital offer that they can engage with in their own home, at a time convenient to them, and at a pace they could dictate. In a nutshell, our Diabetes Virtual School (DVS) is an online, personalised learning school for people diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. It is an interactive, structured, online education programme with resources for patients to self-educate and manage their condition. The Diabetes Virtual School allows patients to participate in six educational modules. The core modules are:

Each module:

  • Is evidence based and focuses on the needs of the person;
  • Has specific aims and learning objectives;
  • Supports the person and their family in developing attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and skills to self-manage Diabetes;
  • Provides a structured curriculum that is theory driven and resource effective;
  • Contains content designed and delivered by trained educators and skilled and experienced experts including GPs, a diabetologist,a dietician, a Diabetes nurse, fitness coaches and trainers and behaviour change experts;
  • Includes structured education and behaviour change tools.
  • The school can be viewed on multiple devices including mobile phones, tablets or desktop/laptop (fully responsive and adaptive).
We felt it was very important to ensure the content is delivered in a fun, interactive format to engage people. The language is simple but not patronising.

The school includes case studies, animations, videos, and interactive exercises. Dare we say it, it is fun. And we thought this was important. Learning should be fun and interactive! Individuals will gain skills and confidence to take control of their own health and wellbeing and we believe we have designed a digital tool that will equip and empower patients who have Type 2 Diabetes to be proactive in managing their condition.

Of course, the Virtual School is designed using behavioural theory to encourage sustainable behaviour change. I wouldn't have it any other way! We have really thought about this because we want this online school to provide an alternative source of education for patients who cannot, or do not want to attend a group course (currently around 75-95% of patients). We don't want to replace the current offer, we want to compliment it and open up choice for patients. Our Diabetes Virtual School allows patients to participate at a time convenient to them, in the comfort of their own home, over a long period of time. You can start and stop at any point, it auto saves and allows the individual to pick up where they left off. But don't worry. It will 'nudge' people if they haven't completed a module! We know how busy people are.

We plan to launch phase 1 in summer 2018 but we have additional optional modules in design and we plan to launch these later in the year covering special conditions such as pregnancy, and Type 1 diabetes. We will of course keep working with patients to design and deliver the school - it's essential and exactly what we advocate in all our work programmes. We have built in continuous assessment and co-creation with people who live with diabetes and we are adapting the product all the time to be responsive to their needs.

If you are someone with diabetes who would be interested in working with us on this programme, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us!

Every diabetes lead in every Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in England has been sent a pack on our Diabetes Virtual School and we look forward to talking to them, as well as GP's, clinical leads, nurses and other professionals interested in diabetes. If this is you, please reach out because we would love to hear from you.