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More than 13,000 screened in Norfolk, Suffolk and north east Essex in one of world’s largest diabetes prevention studies

PUBLISHED: 08:00 25 July 2017 | UPDATED: 08:11 25 July 2017

Vivian Parr who took part in a diabetes study at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Vivian Parr who took part in a diabetes study at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

archant 2017

One of the largest diabetes prevention research studies in the world has just finished recruiting after screening over 13,000 participants at risk of diabetes in Norfolk, Suffolk and north east Essex.

Patrick Thirkettle has been taking part in a diabetes study at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017 Patrick Thirkettle has been taking part in a diabetes study at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017

The Norfolk Diabetes Prevention Study (NDPS) has been successfully recruiting volunteers through 135 GP practices in the three counties for five years.

The team has written to more than 144,000 people asking them to take part in the programme.

And to date the programme has provided substantial data with full results expected early next year.

Participants at highest risk of developing Type 2 diabetes were invited to take part in a three and a half year lifestyle intervention programme run at seven centres throughout Norfolk and Suffolk.

Vivian Parr who took part in a diabetes study at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Picture : ANTONY KELLY Vivian Parr who took part in a diabetes study at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Currently there are over 1,600 people taking part in this lifestyle intervention trials throughout the east of England.

The trials involve group sessions to help people increase their physical activity, eat healthily and lose weight if needed.

Some of the participants receive additional support between sessions from Diabetes Prevention Mentors (DPM). A key element of the programme is the recruitment and training of these volunteer.

Joining the programme changed Patrick Thirkettle’s way of life.

Patrick Thirkettle has been taking part in a diabetes study at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
Byline: Sonya Duncan
Copyright: Archant 2017 Patrick Thirkettle has been taking part in a diabetes study at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2017

Mr Thirkettle, who lives near Poringland, Norfolk, joined the diabetes course just over a year ago on the advice on his GP because his blood sugars were above normal.

Mr Thirkettle, 51, works as a property maintenance supervisor and attends group education sessions every two months where he joins about 10 other patients for a session covering exercise and healthy eating.

He said: “My diet has changed completely since I joined the programme and now I know far more about food labelling and how to look for sugar and salt content.

“This is something that everyone should learn at school. I enjoy my food just as much as I used to but I have cut down on biscuits and cakes. The knowledge I’ve gained means that I buy the right things when I go to the supermarket.”

Mr Thirkettle’s blood sugars had returned to the normal range following a recent blood test and he is determined to maintain his healthy lifestyle changes on a permanent basis.

Vivien Parr is another participant in the study. Ms Parr has a family history of diabetes but was surprised to receive a letter from her local GP surgery notifying her of the NDPS and asking if she would like to consider having some tests with the NDPS team, with a view to participating.

Being generally fit and healthy, she was sceptical about whether she was susceptible to diabetes but decided to go for blood tests to confirm that there was no need for her to make any diet or lifestyle changes.

When the results of her blood tests came back with raised blood glucose level in a prediabetes range, she was extremely shocked.

She said: “I decided to go originally just to help out the clinical researchers at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, so when the tests came back showing that I was eligible to take part in the study and that I was at risk of diabetes I really couldn’t believe it.”

Ms Parr, 66, went on to join the study in May 2016 alongside a group of 12 other participants starting the programme at the same time.

“I’ve learnt such a lot so far on the programme,” she said. “What’s been particularly interesting is learning about what prediabetes and diabetes really is in a language you can understand, and being able to positively change your habits.”

Since joining the study, Ms Parr has lost around two stone. Completing regular three-day food diaries has helped her to identify where she could improve her diet and she has removed all snacks between meals as a result.

She added: “I didn’t feel unhealthy in the first place but members of my family have said that I look brighter and my mood has improved.

“I’m really grateful to have participated in the study; I’ve met some lovely people and I’ve learnt a lot. To know that I’ve made positive changes which will help to prevent my health from declining in the future is a great thing.”

At the time of Ms Parr’s last monitoring clinic appointment, her blood glucose levels had reduced to those of a healthy adult. She’s committed to continuing her new healthy lifestyle and is enjoying putting into practice everything she has learned during the programme.

Professor Mike Sampson, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) consultant and the programme’s chief investigator, said: “We are very pleased to get to the 13,000 mark which exceeded our original goal, and very grateful to the more than 135 GP practices who have worked with us on this project.”.

Senior programme manager and principal investigator Dr Melanie Pascale added: “The NDPS collaborative working on this programme is a great example of health care innovation and a good example of research as vital in providing the evidence we need to transform services, improve patient outcomes and provide value for money healthcare. Overall the feedback from participants has been very positive.”

The study has been sponsored by NNUH and funded with around £3m from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

For more, click here.

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