As a diabetic, I know the NHS is playing a very dangerous game with its latest cost-cutting exercises

The suggestion that blood glucose testing strips are ‘low priority medication’ is frankly offensive. Now the NHS plans to limit access for people with type 2 diabetes, potentially risking their health

James Moore
Wednesday 28 November 2018 18:50 GMT
Regular use of those testing strips to monitor my blood sugar levels reduces the chance of my contracting some pretty nasty complications
Regular use of those testing strips to monitor my blood sugar levels reduces the chance of my contracting some pretty nasty complications (Getty/iStock)

I love the NHS but the people who run it are proving themselves to be, from where I’m sitting, as nasty, sick and cynical as the wretched politicians who run this country.

Does that sound like I’m laying it on a bit thick? You wouldn’t think that if, like me, you lived with diabetes and woke this morning to the horrible sick fear that key parts of the medication that kept you alive were being deemed “low priority” and were set to be taken off prescription.

This morning, it was announced by NHS England that it would stop prescribing “gluten-free pizzas, cakes and biscuits” (as described in their own press release). GPs, they said, will now also be barred from prescribing “silk garments and bath oils, homeopathy and products that are available over the counter, often at lower cost, to treat 35 minor conditions, such as paracetamol and cough mixture”.

Well, thank goodness for that, you might think. GPs aren’t there to prescribe high quality clothing and tasty snacks after all! Surely this message could only be met with positivity! But then you read the fine print. Because down there next to silk jim-jams and tasty snacks are what they’ve now decided are “low priority medications” getting struck off too, such as “blood glucose testing strips” and “needles for pre-filled and reusable insulin pens”.

Now I have type 1 diabetes, which is a life-threatening autoimmune disorder for which there is no cure. Since I was two years old, I have required insulin injections several times a day to metabolise carbohydrate because my body no longer produces the stuff.

Regular use of those testing strips to monitor my blood sugar levels reduces the chance of my contracting some pretty nasty complications. They include blindness, amputations, kidney disease and more besides (which are all fairly expensive to treat).

So you can, perhaps, understand my alarm when I read the news stories, and then referred back to the press release that generated them.

From where I’m sitting, blood glucose testing strips are not “low priority medication”. The suggestion that they are is frankly offensive. And Diabetes UK has already reported disturbing evidence of their use being limited.

That said, the full consultation document from which the press release was sourced makes it clear that it’s only type 2 diabetics who will have their access to glucose testing strips limited. The 3 million or so people with that condition aren’t set to have their supply cut off, but it will in future be restricted to the cheap options.

I’m not sure that makes me feel any better. I have friends with type 2 who also use strips with the aim of ensuring good control, and limiting the risk of complications. And the message that I take from this is that if they can do it to type 2s, they can sure as hell do it to the minority of us with type 1.

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I don’t use an insulin pen. Having had some very bad experiences with them in their early days, I prefer traditional syringes.

But the restrictions proposed for those that do raise the question: is “cost-effective” simply code for “cheap and ultimately not very good for the long term health of the person with the condition”.

Nikki Joule, policy manager at Diabetes UK, had this to say: “It’s important that the cheaper alternatives – needles, test strips and meters – are effective and meet the needs of those who use them. We are concerned that cheaper test strips and meters may not give some people living with type 2 diabetes all of the information they really need to track long term trends in their blood glucose levels or to meet legal requirements, such as for driving.”

Hear, hear.

Diabetes of any type can leave one feeling profoundly vulnerable and disempowered.

It’s tough enough dealing with the condition, let alone having to put up with someone playing Russian roulette with the long term impacts it can have on your health.

Recently I’ve been left asking what the hell has happened to the basically decent country I thought I lived in more times than I can count. And sadly, this shabby affair has raised that question once again.

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