People with diabetes have been left unable to monitor their blood glucose levels, putting them at risk from serious complications, because the test strips required are being rationed by the NHS to save money, Diabetes UK has claimed.
According to a new report, 39 per cent of people with diabetes had either been refused a blood test strip or had their prescription restricted.
Self-monitoring of blood glucose levels is essential for people with type 1 diabetes and for many with the more common type 2 diabetes, so they can adjust their treatment levels.
Failure to do so can lead to conditions such as hypoglycaemia and ketoacidosis, and if left unmanaged in the long-term can result in serious complications that can require amputations, or cause blindness or stroke.
Blood monitoring and treatment adjustment is also necessary for many people with diabetes to go about everyday activities, such as eating and exercising, safely.
NHS England said that all doctors and pharmacists had been told not to restrict access to testing strips. However, many of the respondents to Diabetes’ UK survey, which consulted 2,000 people with diabetes, said that their GP had told them restrictions were in place because of policies issued by local health managers.
Barbara Young, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said that restricting access was not only causing distress, but would also create a problem for the NHS in the long term, as complications caused by lack of monitoring mounted up. Diabetes already costs the NHS around £10bn annually.
“Rationing test strips to save money does not make any sense, because it is putting people at increased risk of complications that are hugely expensive to treat,” she said.
In total, 856 people respondents to the Diabetes UK survey said they had been denied test strips or had their access restricted. Of them, 58 per cent were people with type 1 diabetes or their carers, and 42 per cent were people with type 2 diabetes, or carers.
An NHS England spokesman said that guidance to doctors on prescribing test strips was clear.
“People with type 1 diabetes need to be fully supported in their self-care programme and we have previously written to all GPs, hospital doctors and community pharmacists stating quite clearly that this group of patients should not have their access to test strips restricted,” the spokesman said. “For patients with Type 2 diabetes, NICE guidelines recommend their use only as part of a wider self-management package in certain instances.”