Working with diabetes

Working with diabetes

What employers need to know about type one diabetes
14 Nov 2019

Did you know that in the UK, there are approximately 320,000 people who are currently living with type one diabetes? This includes public figures such as Theresa May, Olympic rower Sir Chris Redgrave and England rugby international Henry Slade.

Whilst the condition would have been previously considered life threatening until insulin was first introduced as treatment in 1921, it now possible for people with type one diabetes to live long and healthy lives.

Yet, under current employment legislation, those diagnosed with type one diabetes in the country are considered disabled, as it is deemed as having a ‘substantial and long-term negative effect’ on those who have the condition. With this mind, employers have a responsibility to be flexible and provide assistance where possible.

What is type one diabetes?

It is important to know the main differences between type one and type two diabetes. Type one occurs as a result of the immune system attacking cells in the pancreas that produce the hormone needed for the conversion of glucose in the blood and therefore into energy: otherwise known as insulin. It affects people in a different manner to those suffering from type two diabetes as it is not preventable, and it cannot be cured.

This means that employers should be fully aware and considerate of the fact that type one diabetes employees will require blood tests and insulin injections for the rest of their lives.

What is it like for someone that has type one diabetes whilst working? Rob Brown knows. He speaks about his experience and provides some insights for employers to take on board.

It affects everything

“Diabetes affects every decision I make. I have to balance the carbohydrates in my food with the amount of insulin I take. Too much insulin and my blood sugar level crashes, causing the unpleasant and dangerous condition known as hypoglycemia; not enough and it spikes, causing equally unpleasant and dangerous hyperglycemia. It's like walking a tightrope” says Rob.

Employers need to be accommodating

“I was even given four extra days paid leave so I could attend an NHS course to qualify me for consideration for an insulin pump and a device called a flash monitor. Some may say this goes beyond a 'reasonable adjustment' but I’d beg to differ: these devices allowed me to cope with diabetes and the stress and long hours of the job more safely and effectively.”

It can affect people’s mental health

A nationwide study by Diabetes UK revealed that more than half of all diabetics suffer mental health conditions and less than a third feel they are in control of their diabetes.

Rob confirms: “Diabetes is overwhelming. Many people just ignore it, as I did in my young years, not wanting it to restrict what they do or define who they are.”

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