What are diabetes specialist nurses?

Patsy Westcott / 05 November 2012

What is a diabetes specialist nurse and what are the benefits of seeing one?

If you have recently been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, or are having trouble managing your type 2 diabetes, you may be referred to a diabetes specialist nurse.

Some 2.9 million people in the UK have diabetes, a condition that, if not well controlled, can lead to serious complications, such as heart disease, stroke, eye and kidney problems and nerve damage in the feet, which may in turn lead to foot ulcers and even amputation.

Pioneering nurse, Janet Kinson, was the first to recognise the need to train nurses to educate and support people with diabetes and their families some 70 years ago. Today there are some 1300 diabetes specialist nurses (DSNs) working in hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and the community. There is also a growing number of diabetes nurse consultants, with a more extensive role in leading and planning services.

Who are diabetes nurses?

A trained nurse with special expertise in the care and treatment of diabetes, a DSN can be an invaluable source of information, advice and support, for example if you have to start using insulin, if your blood sugar becomes uncontrolled or if other health problems emerge that complicate your diabetes. 

They will liaise on your behalf with other healthcare professionals such as your GP, practice nurse, dietitian, podiatrist (foot specialist) and optometrist (eye screening specialist).

You can talk to them on the phone, see them when you visit the diabetes or other clinic or they may visit you at home if you are housebound.

What are the benefits of seeing a diabetes specialist nurse?

Managing diabetes isn’t always easy and your needs may change over time as the condition progresses. “Usually DSNs work with people with diabetes who have complications, such as foot disease or kidney failure, and with people who need more complex insulin regimes including those who need multiple injections or who are using insulin pumps. Services are tailored to patient need. We might see someone one-off to help them decide on goals and agree a management plan, for example, or, if their needs are more complex we may see them more often,” says Leicester-based consultant diabetes nurse, June James.

Around 78 per cent of DSNs work alongside dietitians running courses such as DESMOND (Diabetes Education for Self Management Ongoing and Newly Diagnosed), for people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or DAFNE (Dose Adjustment for Normal Eating) for people with type 1 diabetes. 

Around half of community DSNs and two thirds of diabetes nurse consultants now also prescribe medication, and they can also train you to use an insulin pump if necessary. 

You may see a DSN if you are referred to a foot, hypertension (high blood pressure), renal (kidney) clinic or in a pre-assessment clinic before an operation. If you are admitted to hospital, a DSN may come to see you and advise on aspects of your diabetes management to help reduce the length of your hospital stay.

How do I get to see a diabetes specialist nurse?

Your GP or hospital consultant can refer you and will mostly likely do so if you are newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes or if you have type 2 diabetes and are having problems managing your condition.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.