People with diabetes are being denied the chance to monitor their blood glucose levels because vital test strips are being rationed to save money, according to a new report by Diabetes UK.The new report has found that one in five people with diabetes who responded to a survey had either been refused a prescription for blood glucose test strips, or had their prescription restricted.
This amounts to 58 per cent of people with Type 1 diabetes and 40 per cent of people with Type 2 diabetes.The report suggests that nearly a quarter of the people who said they had their prescriptions restricted had been told by their GP that this was due to restrictive policies issued by local health managers. This is supported by further analysis by Diabetes UK that shows widespread variation on guidance on prescribing test strips, with some areas issuing arbitrary restrictions.
Monitoring blood glucose levels is essential
This is despite the fact that monitoring blood glucose levels is essential for people with Type 1 and people with Type 2 diabetes on glucose lowering medication, including insulin, that carries risk of hypoglycaemia because they need to know their blood glucose level so they can adjust their treatment accordingly. Failure to do so can lead to short-term complications such as potentially fatal diabetic ketoacidosis and hypoglycaemia. In the long term, high blood glucose levels can lead to serious complications such as amputation, blindness and stroke.
Testing required for daily life activities
For people with Type 1 diabetes and insulin-treated Type 2 diabetes, testing is required for daily life activities such as eating and exercising. In addition, the DVLA require people who treat their diabetes with insulin to always test their blood glucose level before they drive.
We are calling for the removal of blanket policies on blood glucose monitoring, and want access to test strips to be decided on a case-by-case basis, in a joint decision-making process between the person with diabetes and their clinician.
Rationing test strips 'unacceptable'
We believe that rationing blood glucose test strips because of financial constraints is an unacceptable example of short-termism that could be putting people’s health at risk and is also storing up long-term costs for the NHS because diabetes complications are extremely expensive to treat.The Department of Health has recently written to all GPs to tell them that people with Type 1 diabetes should not have their access to test strips restricted. This follows comments made by the Health Minister Anna Soubry in Parliament that rationing of blood glucose test strips is 'unacceptable'.
Basic tools "rationed"
Barbara Young, Chief Executive at Diabetes UK, said, "Test strips are the most basic of tools for day-to-day management of Type 1 diabetes and insulin-treated Type 2 diabetes, and so it is very worrying that so many people are telling us they are having their test strips rationed because of cost-saving measures."When people with Type 1 or insulin-treated Type 2 diabetes have their test strips restricted or denied it has a huge impact on their life. Our survey showed lack of test strips was stopping them driving, exercising or knowing how much insulin to take when they are eating, or whether they are experiencing a ‘hypo’ which needs to be treated immediately. This is causing distress and anxiety and is making it hard for people with Type 1 and insulin-treated Type 2 diabetes to manage the condition.
Putting people at increased risk of complications
"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. Diabetes costs the NHS around 10 billion annually, and 80 per cent of this spend goes on treating complications.
"We are glad that the Health Minister Anna Soubry has made it clear to GPs that they must prescribe blood glucose test strips to people with Type 1 diabetes in accordance with clinical need.
"Healthcare professionals also need to be aware that people with Type 2 diabetes who are on glucose-lowering medication, including insulin, that can cause hypoglycaemia will also need to test their blood glucose levels. It’s important that people with diabetes are aware of this so that they can challenge GPs that try to ration.
Access to test strips on a case-by-case basis
"We now want to see GPs and healthcare professionals take heed of our report and ensure decisions about blood glucose monitoring and access to test strips are made on a case-by-case basis and in consultation with the person with diabetes and their healthcare professional."