People living with diabetes have described how a weekly walk has transformed their health, their lives and brought them new friends and lots of laughter.
David Holman was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes eight years ago and says he feels younger and fitter.
The 63 year-old hasn’t needed to see his doctor, with the exception of his routine diabetes check-up, for more than a year.
It’s not down to some new miracle pill but as a result of being referred by his diabetic nurse Esther Gray to social prescribing facilitator Hayley Burgoyne, who is based at St Austell Healthcare.
David said: “When I was first diagnosed I was told to visit a local diabetic group. When I went there it was full of people who had lost limbs or who were about to lose parts of their limbs and it was very depressing and I never went back because it never did anything to make me want to feel how to improve my condition.”
That wasn’t the case with Hayley who ‘prescribes’ patients with activities and opportunities within their community that they may never have thought of but which have a really good impact on the way their mind and body feel.
“Hayley had a list of about 20 activities”, explained David, from Polgooth, but the one he chose was the Wednesday walking scheme, the Heart of Cornwall Health Walks coordinated by St Austell Healthcare and the Eden Project.
Heart of Cornwall Health Walks started with just a handful of people, all of who have diabetes or are at risk of developing the condition.
A year later more than 50 people regularly turn up to walk with a choice of the pace that they would like to join in with.
He added: “Within two weeks I decided I would like to lead one of these. I got involved in doing a one day walk leader course so it was prescribing something and getting me to actually do it for the first time ever as opposed to a prescription of things that I just picked up from the pharmacy.
“I am diabetic, I’m not the walking police or a fitness fanatic but I think this is way forward. It has changed my outlook and we‘re changing other people’s outlooks. It’s not “just about moving your feet, it’s about moving your lips and I’ve lost weight –quite a lot in fact.”
Hayley said the results have been “fantastic”.
She said: “Clinicians refer patients to me directly and then I see the patients on a one-to-one basis in the surgery. We speak about their health and social situation, find out what barriers they are experiencing and how we can help them overcome those barriers and what goals they want to achieve and how can we help them achieve these goals to improve their health and wellbeing.
People who have been bereaved and/or socially isolated that have joined the walk, thoroughly enjoy attending the walking group and they have made friends. They meet not only at the walk but also outside of the group so they are actually getting out and about.
“We have had people who have dropped a lot of weight so their body mass index has reduced. I monitor people and their blood sugar levels and in a lot of cases their blood sugar levels have come down so dramatically that we’re looking in some cases at trying to reverse people’s diabetes.”
Michael Chipman, 86, also has diabetes and joined the walking group back in January after he mentioned to his daughter that his was getting breathless walking short distances.
He said: “If it wasn’t for the people that you see every week you’d probably stay at home and say ‘oh, I don’t think I’ll bother today’.
“I think I’ve missed one Wednesday since I started back in January and that’s when I wasn’t very well. We have a bit of fun while we’re walking around.”
Lynda Tamim, 65, said it gave her the “kick-start” that she needed to help tackle her Type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
“I feel fitter and now I also do another walk on a Friday. I’ve started circuit training on a Monday and I’m getting out, meeting people and chatting and I’ve made good friends along the way.”
Mike Bunt was diagnosed 58 years ago with Type 1 diabetes and lost all his toes on his right foot through an infection.
He uses a wheelchair and crutches to get around but he regularly joins the group for a walk with his wife Sue.
Mike hails Hayley as “magic” for what she has made possible for both him and others, adding: “I enjoy the walks although I haven’t walked the whole distance but I enjoy the social side. Everyone is so kind and so helpful. Empathy is not taught, empathy is felt from the heart and most people I come into contact with are very empathetic and that makes a heck of a difference.”
Many agree – there’s now a waiting list but eventually the hope is that St Austell Healthcare will be able to support even more people to lead healthier and happier lives, and free up GP time and prevent costly hospital stays.