MPs debate diabetes this week – but it will be a pointless exercise if a no-deal Brexit blocks my life-saving drugs

Britain's distracted parliamentarians must seize the chance to seek urgent clarification from the health secretary

James Moore
Tuesday 08 January 2019 13:28
Lorries perform no-deal Brexit test at Kent airfield

It’s hard to imagine anything more pointless than the House of Commons holding a debate on diabetes. It’s a bit like discussing what colour curtains you’d like while people are busily placing sticks of dynamite at strategic points around your home.

I am, of course, talking about the no-deal Brexit that Britain’s most prominent type 1 diabetic Theresa May is currently refusing to rule out.

It is a course of action that may seriously harm, and even kill, type 1 diabetics like me, and many of those with type 2 as well.

And no, I am not exaggerating.

If we cannot secure supplies of insulin, if it ends up stuck in a lorry in that Kent traffic jam Calamity Chris Grayling and co farcically tried to simulate on Monday, that’s the end result.

Thanks to a crazy immune system that ate my insulin-producing cells when I was two no one’s quite sure why this happens I can’t metabolise carbohydrates.

Without insulin injections to do it for me, they build up in my blood. I begin feeling tired, washed out and sick. I start needing to drink water every five minutes as my body tries to flush the excess sugar out of my system through my piss via my kidneys. Those organs, and many others, come under attack from the stuff building up in my blood, which starts to resemble the icky syrup they put in those slushy things sold at cinemas.

Because of this, from where I’m sitting there’s only one damn question worthy of consideration in a Commons debate about diabetes: will the government be able to guarantee adequate supplies of insulin, plus the associated equipment that people like me rely on to retain our places on this mortal coil.

In the case of the latter, I mean syringes, blood testing strips and the medication you have to take to deal with the complications the condition serves up.

Sure, there’s other stuff to talk about. The availability of new treatments, the efficacy of what’s on offer at the moment, or the fact that if you live in Redbridge, like I do you, you pretty much have to be aged over 80 and be pregnant with twins to get your feet looked at by a podiatrist and for what are laughably referred to as diabetic “services” to take an interest in you.

The thing is, there won’t be a need for any new treatments, or to test the efficacy of the current ones, or even to discuss dysfunctional services worthy only of mockery if a consequence of the government’s flagship policy is to get rid of all the UK’s diabetics.

Well I suppose it’s one way to handle the issue.

Don’t you worry your sweet little head, said the Department of Health when I asked for its take on all this. “We are taking comprehensive action to ensure the continued supply of medicines whatever the Brexit outcome. This includes asking pharmaceutical companies to have six weeks additional supply over their business-as-usual stocks.

“Patients, pharmacists and the NHS will be able to access medicines in the same way they do now.”

It sounds all very reassuring doesn’t it? The trouble is, I struggle with the idea of relying on the public statements made by this government. It might be something to do with the way it has wilfully and repeatedly lied to the British public. It might be because it hired a ferry company that doesn’t have any ferries to bring in supplies. It might be that low comedy in Kent. It might just be that MPs found it to have been in contempt of parliament.

I’m rather more inclined to rely on what Bridget Turner, the director of policy at Diabetes UK, has said on the issue. She wants “independent assurance” that the “plans” we are told are in place to ensure the supplies of medicines are robust.

She suggests the government follows the recommendations of the Health Select Committee. Among other things, it wants the Department of Health to “publish the list of medicines for which there is a supply risk, alongside a clear plan to mitigate these risks”.

That would be a good start.

She is also unimpressed with the recent proposal to adopt a “serious medicines shortage protocol” that would dispense a “reduced quantity” of any medicine, an “alternative dosage form”, a ‘“therapeutic equivalent” or a “generic equivalent”.

That’s because it’s basically bullshit (although her statement doesn’t express it quite like that).

As she says, people with diabetes cannot simply switch to a different type or brand of insulin without harmful consequences for their health.

So no, you thickos who call into radio phone ins or snarl on Twitter, we couldn’t rely on the small amount of animal insulin produced in this country to keep us ticking over even were there enough of it to go around.

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“Rationing should never be necessary for a medicine that people rely on to survive; we are beginning to see people’s concerns growing, and we must not end up in a position where people with diabetes are worried about getting their supplies and subsequently stockpile,” says Turner.

Shit scared would be the best way to describe how I feel right now and I’m far from alone.

So those of you MPs who can drag yourselves away from the tea room to attend tomorrow’s debate, that’s what you need to be talking about.

I’ve forwarded a copy of this to my local MP, Wes Streeting, in the hope that he, or one of his colleagues, will be among them and make that point.

Diabetes UK has written to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, expressing its concerns and calling for urgent clarification of what he intends to do.

Wes – you and your colleagues need to hold his feet to the fire because if you don’t, some of us are going to end up with ours getting chopped off.

That’s another consequence of the complications of diabetes, another result of your body not producing insulin and having your blood turn into sticky goo, another potential outcome of the no deal threatened by this country’s wretched diabetic-led government that has completely lost both its mind and its moral centre.


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