Frustrated expert slams government

Professor Jim Mann.
Professor Jim Mann.
A Dunedin professor who is New Zealand's leading diabetes researcher has quit as chairman of a Ministry of Health advisory group and criticised the Government for its lack of action on the disease.

University of Otago Professor Jim Mann has spent the last 40 years of his life researching prevention strategies for diabetes.

He will be releasing figures next week at a World Diabetes Day seminar at Forsyth Barr Stadium that show the number of people on the verge of getting diabetes in New Zealand is close to or more than the 300,000 who already have it.

"It is just going to become more astronomical and in terms of prevention we do nothing."

He has stood down as chairman of the Ministry of Health Expert Advisory Group on Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease in the hope that someone else will have more luck convincing politicians.

"I have chaired these committees since they first started, but I have now decided we should see if other people would be more effective.

"It is almost like you are sitting here looking at this disaster about to happen and not acting. I have been saying this for years and the minister [of health Tony Ryall] hates me," Prof Mann said.

The Government was not even sending a representative to a panel discussion at the event next Wednesday because Parliament is sitting at the same time, he said.

Government whip and Dunedin-based list MP Michael Woodhouse said no government had done more for diabetes than this one.

"We have made it a high priority. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes is one of our six main health priorities.

"It would be disappointing if someone with the reputation that Professor Mann has judges the Government's actions on whether or not the Government sends someone to this conference."

Prof Mann had been told that all National MPs were tied up on select committees on that particular day, he said.

"It had nothing to do with being too busy, it had nothing to do with not caring enough as Jim infers in his comments. Parliament is sitting, that's what we do. I don't have anyone to give on Wednesday."

In a speech to the National Diabetes Nurse Specialist symposium six weeks ago, Mr Ryall said the Government had introduced specialist diabetes nurses for each district health board and introduced a "Get Checked" programme.

Last year doctors prescribed 32,000 people with "green prescriptions" to help them get more active and it had introduced "food-free advertising zones" during popular children's television viewing times.

The Prime Minister's chief science adviser Peter Gluckman has also set out a diabetes prevention programme targeting pregnant mothers because there was evidence that obesity habits formed pre-birth.

"There is an opportunity to deliver our programmes in a different way and leverage other funding sources and resources to deliver nutrition advice and education support to mothers and newborns," Mr Ryall said.

Prof Mann said reducing heart disease and diabetes later in life by giving good maternal nutrition was "probably right", but still unproven.

"What about the rest of us?

"If you just concentrate on pregnancy and people that are not yet born you are writing everybody else off.

"Absolutely dumb policy but yet, that is what the Government has chosen to do," he said.

Exercise prescriptions were not enough and the Government needed "massive programmes" to deal with it, he said.


Undercare of diabetics

What utter rubbish Michael Woodhouse! The Govt has just reduced funding for diabetics by changing suppliers of reliable and trusted blood glucose meters to one from Korea which has a minute foothold in the world who were actually on the verge of closing down prior to Pharmac giving them the go ahead to supply NZ's 200,000+ diabetics.  All this in order to 'save' $10M which is not going to be put back in to the care of diabetics.  This Govt is slowly and systematically stripping the choice and rights of NZ citizens to quality care and heading on a fast track to user pays. 

Prof Mann

It is regrettable his decision to resign, due to his empathy about diabetes. Type 1 diabetics face a life time of hell, dealing with this life threatening disease  with little support. And don't quote back to me the Diabetes Society, they sold us up a creek with regard to a proposal they were fully aware of and never consulted with us about it, and that is sole supply with regard to test strips and meters from South Korea, the second most important equipment to saving a type 1 diabetic's life next to insulin, and sugar in the event of preventing a diabetic coma.

Tony Ryall has been hounded about this topic constantly in Parliament and even cited in  Parliament it was a personal matter to him.  He does not listen, and the new proposed meters and strips have numerous faults and are not equipped for NZ conditions, needless to say, hospital visits will increase, and needless deaths from faulty equipment.


Diabetes Care in NZ

I can relate to Prof Mann. Diabetes care in this country looks like: "You have type 2 diabetes. Here's your meter and a prescription for your medication and test strips. Oh and you need to lose 20kgs. G'day!"

People don't get taught what the test results mean, how your diet and exercise impacts those blood sugar levels, how to improve on your diet based on your genetic heritage and what the medication does. 

And how are a handful of diabetes specialist nurses going to cope with over 200,000 diabetics? Each one of them can deal with a maximum of 1,500 patients. We need a few hundreds, not the pokey amount the government praises itself so much for.

My son has has type 1 diabetes and was diagnosed in Auckland 6 years ago. We were lucky in that regard as we were not allowed to leave hospital until we had proven we have a sufficient understanding of the workings of type 1 diabetes including nutrition. Many adult type 1 and children diagnosed in other places don't get this intensive support. And most type 2 can only dream about it!

You want to prevent an epidemic? Raise awareness and help those dealing with the disease to help themselves better. This will free secondary (health) costs and help in the long-run to prevent an epidemic. Type 2 diabetes runs in families and if you change the lifestyle of one family member it often impacts positively on the others and there will be less diabetics!  


Our government thinks issuing "exercise prescriptions" is the sort of thing people do when making takling diabetes a "high priority", proudly proclaims food free advertising zones during popular children's TV viewing times - after having shut down the children's channel that had no advertising on it at all, and starts a programme to deal with a connection between maternal nutrition and diabetes that is, according to experts, unproven.

Personally, when a leading expert in the subject tells me it is "absolutely dumb policy" I would tend to believe him. I know I say this all too frequently, but what planet are they on?