Thousands of diabetics are at risk of serious complications after being denied access to life-saving technology, the UK diabetes charity warns.
Two years ago, NHS bosses promised 80,000 Britons with type 1 diabetes a portable blood glucose meter, such as the £ 2-coin FreeStyle Libre used by former Prime Minister Theresa May.
But a survey by the charity Diabetes UK found that in some areas, only one in 10 patients receives the device. It called the situation a ‘postcode lottery’.
People with deadly type 1 diabetes cannot produce the hormone insulin – essential for transferring glucose from food to the body’s cells – making their blood sugar unstable.
Rejected: Hannah Lowman, 29, from Bungay in Suffolk, wearing the £ 100-a-month blood sugar monitor she is wearing. She was not given an NHS device
Checking their blood glucose is vital to protect against damage to the heart, eyes, and kidneys and to prevent potentially fatal blood sugar crashes, also known as hypos.
Most patients depend on finger prick blood tests, which are performed many times a day, but they can be painful and lead to skin damage. The needles, also known as lancets, are intended for single use and must be disposed of in special containers. The measurements of the blood drops containing the lancet extract are made with a blood glucose meter.
However, the latest technology includes a small patch attached to the upper arm or abdomen. Sensors take glucose readings from fluid just under the skin and wirelessly send them to a cell phone app, reducing the need for fingersticks.
Professor Partha Kar, Deputy National Clinical Director for Diabetes for NHS England, said: “There is no question that they significantly improve quality of life.”
Research shows that the monitors can help patients better control their blood sugar levels, cut diabetes-related sick days by a third, reduce hospital admissions and reduce distress, Prof. Kar said. He added that they will save the NHS money in the longer term.
But many patients, such as stroke nurse Hannah Lowman, are forced to pay £ 100 a month for the gadgets.
Hannah, 29, from Bungay in Suffolk, has been told she can’t have a device for budget reasons, but said it was life-changing during her recent high-risk pregnancy.
“When my blood glucose started to rise in the second trimester, which could be dangerous for the baby, the information was automatically uploaded to my diabetes specialist and we were able to take immediate action to adjust my insulin medication,” she explains.
Most patients rely on finger prick blood tests, shown above, which are performed many times a day, but they can be painful and lead to skin damage (photo file)
Hannah now has a healthy son, Leo, but added, “Who knows what else could have happened?”
Experts say the tool has never been more valuable, given Covid’s restrictions on in-person appointments. And research shows that diabetes patients are more likely to have severe Covid-19 disease, with some research suggesting that type 1 diabetics are up to three and a half times more likely to die from the disease.
Daniel Howarth, Head of Care at Diabetes UK, said: “These monitors have tremendous benefits for people with diabetes, reducing hospital admissions and improving treatment for the condition. But there is still a gap in terms of who can access it. There are reports of some people crossing the border into different areas to get hold of them.
‘Many regular diabetes appointments are canceled or take place remotely. Monitors could help, but this technology is not used when we know what a huge difference it can make to people’s health. ‘
Figures from the NHS England show that more than 30 percent of the diabetes population in England now has access to the devices – more than the originally pledged 20 percent. But individual Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), made up of local GPs, decide how to spend their budgets, and many still choose not to fund the sensors.
Pumps that deliver insulin into the body around the clock, instead of relying on insulin injections, are also rationed for funding reasons (file photo)
Diabetes UK today launched a campaign, Check For Tech, asking the government to increase funding reserved for diabetes technology. It also calls for an extension of the admission criteria.
To be eligible for the monitors, a person must have type 1 diabetes, have a blood sugar level within a certain average range, and their condition must be severe enough that they must check glucose levels at least eight times a day.
This makes about one in five patients eligible, says NHS England. But thousands of people who fall outside of these categories, including those with advanced type 2 diabetes who rely on insulin, can also benefit from it, says Diabetes UK.
In some places, only one in ten patients gets the device
It’s not just blood glucose meters that are being restricted. Pumps that release insulin into the body around the clock, instead of relying on insulin injections, are also being rationed for funding reasons.
The charity said its study found that half of people with diabetes had been denied access to technology in the past decade – and 40 percent of them struggled to afford it themselves.
Hannah said, “I’m lucky my parents were able to get in and afford the sensors, because with a young family, I would have a hard time bearing the cost.”
Prof Kar said a letter had been sent to all CCGs by NHS England last week asking them to look at the latest evidence on the benefits of the technology and consider whether more people could benefit from it.
What to READ, WATCH AND DO
Best-selling novelist Prowse provides poignant account of the mental health crisis that engulfed her student son Josiah
The Boy Between: A Mother And Son’s Journey From A World Gone Gray, by Amanda Prowse
Best-selling novelist Prowse gives a poignant account of the mental health crisis that engulfed her student son Josiah and the turmoil the family went through to come to terms with his illness.
£ 3.99, Small A
Understanding skin-related emergencies through the eyes of four top dermatologists at a leading UK clinic.
Thursday, 10:00 PM,Channel 5
A free online (via Zoom) introduction to kundalini yoga, an ancient form of the practice that can produce faster results and is suitable for all ages and levels. To book, visit couturefitness.co.uk or email email@example.com.
Tomorrow, 7 pm