Last week, I had the incredible experience of attending the IDF Europe Youth Leadership Camp in Romania to represent Diabetes UK. I was elated to be offered a place on the camp. I had limited knowledge about healthcare variances in Europe, so looked forward to learning more and recieving training in advocacy for my own diabetes-related projects.
As I stepped off the plane in Cluj-Napoca, I couldn’t wait to meet the other participants, but the day’s travelling weighed heavily on my eyelids. I couldn’t even introduce myself to three other participants as we shared a taxi to the hotel. Not even the taxi driver’s drastic swerve on the highway to avoid a head-on collision could stop my head from nodding!
My excitement returned as I began meeting other participants in the hotel restaurant, and we each recalled our diagnosis and how we ended up at the camp. It was astounding to hear the variety of care, which was reiterated within presentations.
There were two representatives from Diabetes UK: myself and Alyssa, from the Scottish branch. We were able to give a thorough description of Diabetes UK’s expansive history and current work in our individual presentations, and highlighted minor differences in care between Scotland and England. It was exciting to introduce the work of Diabetes UK to the other members; as the oldest association, we have contributed significantly to patient care since its foundation in 1934, from patient support groups to Professor Wong’s current research into gut microbiota.
I thoroughly enjoyed meeting participants and listening to each country’s presentation throughout the week, yet I was struck by the variation in access to free supplies. For example, we learnt about limitations to free test strips; in Lithuania, adults over 18 receive only 75 reimbursed test strips per month. Given people with Type 1 should test at least 4 times a day, this requires approximately 120 strips per month, meaning patients are forced to purchase strips if they are to meet the recommendation. Patients in Ukraine and Moldova face the entire cost of insulin and supplies. It was a stark and humbling reminder of how much I take for granted from the NHS.
In addition, it was interesting to note the increased use of the Abbott Freestyle Libre. Belgium and Sweden both provide funding for the sensors, and France has recently followed suit. This is currently under consideration by the NHS, and their uptake suggests promising results are ahead for the UK.
Interspersed throughout the week was an intimidating number of exercise sessions! Admittedly, I have always struggled with sport, especially since my diagnosis. However, one of the greatest reasons behind my application was to improve my confidence, so I tried to get involved as much as possible, as I had been doing in the workshops and presentations. I need not have worried; the group was so kind, and Kyle, who led many sessions, was so welcoming and involving. Despite my terrible volleyball and shameful football ability I still had a fantastic time! Perhaps the most memorable/embarrasing moment was participating in a flash mob, in the 115m depths of a salt mine… click the link below and you may spot me!
The workshops and presentations by IDF board members were also fascinating. A workshop on advocacy by IDF’s intern Weronika was incredibly useful, as we discussed pitching ideas by creating ‘personas’ (character profiles) who we may be addressing, and making an idea as relevant as possible to all personas. It is far too easy to identify a company as a single entity as opposed to the faces behind the work, and this personal level is key to gaining interest and building relationships with potential sponsors and partners. I did not expect the presentation to have such a business-orientation, but the structure of developing a pitch with different perspectives in mind made me more conscious of potential flaws in a plan, and encouraged me to think more broadly about target audiences.
Similarly, it was fantastic to meet the faces behind IDF Europe. To meet the figures behind the work was beyond inspirational. As many of the representatives aspired to increase access to diabetes care, we had the rare and exciting opportunity to discuss topics such as sponsorships and project development with people working in the field. We were encouraged by their support and honesty; the leaders of the camp immediately made us feel comfortable to voice our opinions, making sure we could make the most out of the sessions and the week as a whole. Suddenly, even the most ambitious plans began to seem possible, and with the training received in presentations, I now feel ready to set projects in motion and make real change in the UK.
I cannot thank IDF Europe and Diabetes UK enough. It went above and beyond my expectations in every way, and the inspiration we have gained from IDF staff and the incredible work by participants in their countries has motivated me and strengthened my vision for improved care in the UK. I are excited to get back to work, with a refreshed perspective on the UK’s position in Europe – and also the support of a new international network of friends!