Tackling an epidemic

When Dr Alan Hayes joined the South Wight Medical Practice in Godshill, back in 1984, there were just over 100 patients registered as suffering from Type 2 Diabetes.

Today that figure stands at 350 – which is why the doctor is hardly exaggerating when he describes the condition as an “epidemic”.

It’s an epidemic that isn’t limited to the Island – figures have gone up alarmingly throughout the western world, and worryingly, the condition is affecting more and more younger people every year.

But it’s the Island that Dr Hayes – the Clinical Commissioning Group’s Lead Director for Strokes – is currently focusing on.

In 2013-14, a shocking total of 1,489 Isle of Wight people suffered a stroke or TIA (“mini stroke”) and of those, 386 were hospitalised for at least one night.

The predicted rate for the Isle of Wight, based on national figures, would be only 185 – which means that the actual hospitalisation rates are running at more than double what they should be.

Meanwhile, figures show that 28% of Island patients have blood pressure above target levels, and 31% have high cholesterol.

Having spent a number of years working with national bodies such as the Primary Care Diabetes Society, looking at strategies for researching and tackling strokes and diabetes, Dr Hayes said:  “I felt it was time I did something on the Island”.

Hence his involvement with the Isle of Wight’s “Stay On Track” project, which launched in March.  Set to run right through the summer, it has involved widespread publicity, poster campaigns and leafleting drives, along with consultant visits to GP practices.

One of the aims of the campaign is to encourage anybody over 40 who has not had a blood pressure or cholesterol check in five years to book these quick and simple tests with their GP surgery.

“If we are going to beat these diseases of diabetes, stroke, and heart attack, we have to stay ahead of them” said Dr Hayes.

“The aim of the campaign is to engage people in doing the best they possibly can for themselves – and that means considering their alcohol intake, and being aware of what their blood pressure and cholesterol levels should be, in order to manage them if necessary”.

The other element of the campaign is to motivate high-risk patients – those who have diabetes or have previously suffered a stroke or heart attack – to improve their health through an awareness of key diet and lifestyle issues.

As Dr Hayes points out, the chances of suffering a stroke can be greatly reduced by limiting alcohol intake, managing diet – and, in many cases, simply by taking their prescribed medications.

“Only 25% of patients with diabetes take their medications as prescribed, and we need to impress on people just how important this is”.

On a personal level, Dr Hayes was keen to be involved in this campaign as he heads towards retirement from the GP practice in which he has been a key player for over 32 years.

A Londoner by birth, he qualified at Guy’s Hospital and worked in child development, community medicine and psychiatry for five years before arriving on the Island. “I actually studied medicine in order to travel the world” he laughs, “but I ended up on the Isle of Wight!”

He came here with fond memories of childhood holidays in a beach hut at Lane End, and so was delighted to do his elected period at St Mary’s Hospital – fully intending to head for Africa once he’d finished.

However, he accepted a traineeship with Dr Standish O’Grady in Sandown and subsequently joined the Godshill practice in 1984, where he worked with Drs Mike Howe and Malcolm Wurby to get the practice on its feet. Over the years he has become  the trusted family doctor for generations of local families.

“Even though I’d dreamed of travelling as a doctor, once I got to the Island I think that, in my heart, I really wanted to stay”.

And once his own family came along – Dr Hayes is married to Rachel, a health visitor, nurse and Commissioner for Primary Care Services – he decided it was the perfect safe and secure environment to bring up children.

The Hayes have five daughters aged from 20 to 35, and their second daughter, Annie works as dispensary manager at the Godshill practice, having spent 10 years running luxury yachts in the Caribbean.

The eldest, Amy, is a dental hygienist and former nurse, while Lucy works for the Arts Council, Emma is training to be an actuary, and Beth, 20, is training as an early years teacher.

The family home is in Brook – but the Hayes love the Island so much that they still regularly book a week away at a holiday home here!

They bought a little end-terraced home in Bembridge 10 years ago, and despite only being a few miles from their home, say it feels like a world away.

“It’s totally relaxing being there, and always reminds me of why I fell in love with the Isle of Wight as a child” says Dr Hayes.