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What is diabetes

We appreciate that being given a diagnosis of diabetes comes as a huge shock to most families. It can be a worrying and confusing time.

The aim of this resource is to give you some information about the team, the service we provide and some information about what you might expect in the future.

It is not designed to replace the face to face information you will receive or to discourage you from asking questions. Please feel free to ask any member of the team about things that worry or confuse you. Nothing will seem too small or silly to us and we do not mind repeating things, as we know that you are given a lot of information that can be very confusing.

The diabetes team at Sheffield Children’s hospital is made up of several different staff, including doctors, nurses, dietitians, psychologist and an administrators. We are all here to help you and your child understand about diabetes and how best to manage it.

What is type 1 diabetes?

The most common type of diabetes in childhood in the UK is type 1 diabetes. It affects about 35,000 children in the UK. Type 1 diabetes should not be confused with type 2 diabetes, which is usually diagnosed in adults and is associated with lifestyle factors. Type 1 can happen to anyone at any age and is not caused by lifestyle factors.

In type 1 diabetes your body cannot regulate the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood. Your pancreas (in your tummy) makes a hormone called insulin which regulates your blood sugar.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease. The body makes antibodies which cause damage to the cells which make insulin in the pancreas gland. They gradually make less and less insulin and will eventually stop making any.

Click here to watch an animation by Diabetes UK about diabetes and how insulin works.

How does type 1 diabetes happen?

Type 1 diabetes happens because your body’s own immune system starts to destroys the insulin making cells in your pancreas. Getting good control early will help preserve some cells for a time, making it easier to maintain normal blood glucose which is between 4 to 7mmol/l (millimoles per litre). To do this, we need to help your body with insulin injections several times a day.

How do you diagnose diabetes?

We diagnose diabetes by finding raised sugar (glucose) levels in the blood.

How common is diabetes?

In the UK there are around 26,500 children and young people under the age of 18 with diabetes. It affects 1 in 400 children.

Over 95 per cent of these children will have type 1 diabetes. The rest will have type 2 diabetes or one of the rarer forms. Some of these may be associated with other medical problems too.

How does insulin work?

Our body needs energy to function normally and most of this energy comes glucose which gets into our blood stream from starchy or sugary carbohydrate foods we eat.

Insulin acts by allowing the glucose to pass from our blood into the body cells, where it is used to supply the cell with energy. It acts like a key to open the cell door.

Without insulin the glucose remains in the blood stream and our blood glucose levels rise. This makes you wee more, become thirsty, lose weight and feel tired.

Does insulin have to be given by injection?

Unfortunately, insulin does have to be given by injection. It is destroyed in the stomach if it is swallowed.

We teach you to give this by an insulin pen at first. Many people chose to use an insulin pump as it may be easier. We can show you these if you are interested.

Research has shown that the best diabetes control can be achieved by giving insulin several times a day. This is closest to what the body does naturally in those without diabetes.

Blood glucose testing

Diabetes needs careful monitoring, by checking blood glucose levels regularly. These need to be done 6 to 8 times per day which includes before each meal and before going to sleep. These are used to guide the insulin doses and correction doses which are used to bring down high readings.

A normal blood glucose reading is 4 to 7 mmol/l. The aim for children with diabetes is to have a reading of 4 to 7 mmol/l before breakfast, lunch and tea, and to have 5 to 8 mmol/l before bed.

What does type 1 diabetes mean for my child?

We do not know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes but we do know that it cannot be prevented and has not been caused by anything you or your child has or has not done. It is just something that happens.

Sometimes it can make children becoming very unwell, with vomiting, drowsiness and breathlessness. This is a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

Type 1 diabetes can only be treated by giving insulin back into the body by injections.

What about other types diabetes?

You may have heard of a form of diabetes that does not always need insulin. This is called type 2 diabetes, and is very different from type 1, which your child has.

Type 2 diabetes happens when the insulin that the body produces becomes less effective and is unable to control the blood glucose levels. The pancreas produces more insulin than usual but the insulin works less well. This form of diabetes is more common in older people and is often treated with diet, exercise and tablets at first.

Some rare forms of diabetes run in families so please let us know if lots of people in your family suffer from diabetes.

How serious is diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is a life long condition. It can lead serious health problems later in life, but we know that by keeping the blood glucose levels under control, many of these will be prevented.

Getting off to a good start is really important so we need to ask you to make time over the next few weeks to meet the team and learn as much as possible.

If it is possible, please take time off work so you can concentrate on the diabetes in these important early days. We can write letters for employers if necessary. It is helpful if all the child’s usual carers are involved in learning about diabetes.

Other things to consider

Sharps disposal

Your GP should accept full sharps bins provided that they have prescribed them. Some GP’s are limited to how many they can accept at one time so try not to stock pile them or they may be refused.


The diabetes team would encourage you to have the usual childhood vaccinations as the Department of Health recommendations. This includes an annual flu vaccination.


All children with diabetes should attend their local opticians 2 yearly for a routine eye test. In addition to this routine test, from the age of 12, children with diabetes should also be screened by the Sheffield Eye Screening Service on a yearly basis.


All children should attend regular appointments with their dentist.

ID bracelets

You can get your child an ID bracelet from websites such as Amazon and eBay and so on. You can also purchase from Boots chemists but may need to place an order for delivery later. These are not provided on prescription.

Disability Living Allowance

You may be eligible to claim Disability Living Allowance. Please contact on 0845 712 3456.

You can find out more information on the Disability Living Allowance on the government website here and you can download a claim form here.

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Sheffield Children’s Diabetes Team between 8am and 4pm on weekdays on 0114 271 7320.

On weekends, out of hours and bank holidays please phone 0114 271 7000 (SCH switchboard) and ask for the medical registrar on call. Explain it is for diabetes advice. They will speak to a diabetes consultant if necessary.

Dr N P Wright: 0114 271 7118
Dr K J Price: 0114 271 7160
Dr C A Mackenzie: 0114 271 7160

Mark Denial: 0114 271 7320
Sarah Hawnt: 0114 271 7320
Claire Tallis: 0114 271 7320

Support Worker
Ann Walker: 0114 271 7320

Gerry Bennet and Emma Randle: 0114 271 7212

Admin office
Alison Darby: 0114 271 7320

Clinical Psychologist
Dr Paul Manning: 0114 271 7296

We also usually have 1 or 2 doctors (registrars) working with us in order to specialise in diabetes when they become consultants.

Further resources

Facebook groups

One of our families have set up a Facebook group for you to be able to contact others for peer support and friendship: www.facebook.com/groups/399727813545238/

Sheffield DUK group

On Facebook at www.facebook.com/SheffieldDUKGroup
On Instagram at sheffielddiabetesuk
Email contact details: sheffielddiabetesgroup@gmail.com

Local family diabetes support group

The group organises social activities such as picnics, swimming and Christmas parties and so on. It is an opportunity to meet other families to learn and support each other and for the children to meet others with diabetes. Volunteers are always welcome to assist with the running of the group and activities on offer. Ask the team for more details.

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
Telephone 020 7713 2030 or email: info@jdrf.org.uk

Diabetes UK
Telephone Diabetes UK Careline on 0345 123 2399 or email: careline@diabetes.org.uk

Books about diabetes

  • ‘Type 1 diabetes in children, adolescents and young adults.’ by Dr Ragnar Hanas
    A reference book which will guide you through all aspects of children and young people with diabetes
  • ‘No added sugar about’ by Fibi Ward,
    This book is written by a 14 year old girl after she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and could not find information she needed to know, so she wrote it herself.
  • ‘Diabetes through the looking glass’ by Dr R Besser
    This book is written about diabetes from a young persons view and works through all the aspects of diabetes with personal accounts as well as facts about diabetes
Is something missing from this resource that you think should be included? Please let us know

Contact us


Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: DIA4

Resource Type: Article

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Western Bank
S10 2TH

United Kingdom

Switchboard: 0114 271 7000

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