Orcadian 16/02/17

I am currently sporting an electronic tag. Not, I hasten to add, in response to any anti-social behaviour on my part, but rather in the context of an initiative being run to coincide with Environment Week 2017.

RSPB has recruited a number of MSPs to wear the tags during parliamentary recess this week. These will chart our movement in much the same way as the tags used by RSPB to track the feeding patterns of different bird species.

Having inadvertently activated my tag while it was still in my laptop bag, the data is likely to show that I sat in the corner of my living room all weekend, unable even to summon enough energy to make it to the kitchen for a piece of toast. While my trips to Shapinsay, Flotta and Hoy later in the week will redress the balance a little, I fear I may have sealed for myself a reputation as a couch potato.

The tag itself has drawn some strange looks from people. Worn on my wrist, it looks a bit like a fitbit you might pick up in Poundstretcher. On the upside, it has undoubtedly encouraged me to walk a bit more.

No bad thing really, as the risk for all parliamentarians is that the job can be quite sedentary at times. Election campaigns aside, there tends to be a lot of sitting in meetings, committees and at your computer. Add to that, the lure of parliamentary receptions at which ‘wine and nibbles’ are invariably on offer and piling on the pounds can be effortless.

I had further cause to reflect on improvements I might make to my diet and lifestyle when I met last Friday evening with members of the Orkney Diabetes Group Committee. They explained in detail the lengths that those with Type 1 and many with Type 2 diabetes have to go to in managing their condition. The care that must be taken with what is eaten and when, to the extent of knowing the carbohydrate content of almost every conceivable type of food, is astonishing. Add to that the need for Type 1 and certain Type 2 diabetics to inject regularly with insulin and the daily routine for many can be arduous.

And the numbers affected are not insignificant. In Orkney alone, it runs to well over 1,000. Looking ahead, the projections are more alarming still, in many respects reflecting and exacerbated by the diet and lifestyles too many of us are adopting.

The good news is that risks can be reduced through regular exercise, more healthy eating and even reducing stress. Yet the pressure on services locally is already intense and only likely to get more so.

Feedback from local Group members suggests support at present is generally good, although it can be patchy. More consistent and timely advice to sufferers would be welcome. The importance of regular, specialist podiatry sessions for Type 1 diabetics was also repeatedly highlighted. This is crucial for spotting problems early and reducing the risk of infections and potentially amputations, which are costly and can do so much to undermine quality of life.

All in all, the discussion was a real eye-opener. As luck would have it, a few days later I met with NHS Orkney Chief Executive, Cathie Cowan and was able to follow up a number of the suggestions made by Committee members. Hopefully, by strengthening the dialogue between health professionals and the local diabetes group, services, advice and support can be shaped to meet the needs of diabetics in Orkney. It would be nice to think we might also be able to slow the rate of growth in the numbers affected.

To that end, it might be time for me to get myself a proper fitbit. More distressingly, it probably spells the end for that desk drawer in my office with all the biscuits in it. It’s enough to make me want to go and sit quietly in the corner of my living room for a while.

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