Thousands of diabetics are being put at risk of serious complications after being denied access to lifesaving technology, the UK’s leading diabetes charity has warned.
Two years ago, NHS bosses promised 80,000 Britons with type 1 diabetes a wearable blood glucose monitor, such as the £2-coin-sized FreeStyle Libre used by former Prime Minister Theresa May.
But an investigation by the charity Diabetes UK revealed that in some areas, just one patient in ten is receiving 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 into the body’s cells – which makes their blood sugar levels unstable.
Rejected: Hannah Lowman, 29, from Bungay in Suffolk, with the £100-a-month blood sugar monitor she wears. She was denied an NHS device
Monitoring their blood glucose is vital to protect against damage to the heart, eyes and kidneys and prevent potentially fatal blood sugar crashes, known as hypos.
Most sufferers rely on finger-prick blood tests, carried out many times a day, but they can be painful and lead to skin damage. The needles, known as lancets, are designed to be used only once and have to be disposed of in special bins. Readings from the drops of blood the lancets extract are taken using a blood glucose meter.
However, the latest technology involves a small patch attached to the upper arm or abdomen. Sensors take glucose readings from fluid just under the skin and transmit them wirelessly to a mobile phone app, reducing the need for finger-prick tests.
Professor Partha Kar, NHS England’s deputy national clinical director for diabetes, said: ‘There’s no doubt they greatly improve quality of life.’
Research shows the monitors can help patients achieve better blood sugar control, slash diabetes-related sick days by a third, reduce hospital admissions and ease distress, Prof Kar said. He added that they save the NHS money in the longer term.
But many patients, such as stroke nurse Hannah Lowman, are being forced to pay £100 a month for the gadgets.
Hannah, 29, from Bungay in Suffolk, has been told she cannot have a device, for budget reasons, yet said it was life-changing during her recent high-risk pregnancy.
‘When my blood glucose did start to rise in the second trimester, which can be dangerous for the baby, the information was automatically uploaded to my diabetes specialist and we could act straight away to tweak my insulin medication,’ she explained.
Most sufferers rely on finger-prick blood tests, pictured above, carried out many times a day, but they can be painful and lead to skin damage (file photo)
Hannah now has a healthy son, Leo, but added: ‘Who knows what could have happened otherwise?’
Experts say the tool has never been more valuable, given the Covid restrictions on face-to-face appointments. And research shows diabetes patients are more likely to suffer serious Covid-19 illness, with some studies suggesting type 1 diabetics are up to three-and-a-half times more likely to die from the disease.