Thousands of diabetics are at risk of serious complications after denied access to life-saving technology, the UK's leading diabetes charity warned.
Two years ago, NHS bosses promised 80,000 Britons with type 1 diabetes a portable blood glucose meter, like the £ 2 FreeStyle Libre used by former Prime Minister Theresa May.
However, research by the Diabetes UK charity found that in some areas only one in ten patients receives the device. It called the situation a "zip code lottery".
People with fatal Type 1 diabetes cannot produce the hormone insulin, which is essential for the transfer of glucose from food to cells in the body, making their blood sugar levels unstable.
Declined: Hannah Lowman, 29, of Bungay, Suffolk, with the blood glucose meter she wears for £ 100 a month. She was denied an NHS device
Monitoring blood sugar is important to protect against damage to the heart, eyes, and kidneys, and to prevent potentially fatal blood sugar crashes called hypos.
Most people affected rely on fingerprint blood tests, which are done several times a day. However, they can be painful and cause skin damage. The needles, known as lancets, may only be used once and must be disposed of in special containers. The readings of the drops of blood contained in the lancet extract are measured with a blood glucose meter.
However, with the latest technology, there is a small patch on the upper arm or stomach. Sensors measure glucose from liquid just under the skin and wirelessly transmit it to a cell phone app, eliminating the need for fingerprint tests.
Professor Partha Kar, NHS England's Assistant National Clinical Director for Diabetes, said: "There is no doubt that they will greatly improve the quality of life."
Research shows the monitors can help patients achieve better blood sugar control, cut diabetes-related sick days by a third, reduce hospital admissions and ease distress, said Prof. Kar. He added that they did Save NHS money in the longer term.
But many patients, like stroke nurse Hannah Lowman, pay £ 100 a month for the devices.
Hannah, 29, of Bungay, Suffolk, was told she couldn't have a device due to budget constraints, but said it was life changing during her recent high-risk pregnancy.
"When my blood sugar began to rise in the second trimester, which can be dangerous for the baby, the information was automatically uploaded to my diabetes specialist and we were able to take immediate action to optimize my insulin medication," she said.
Most people affected rely on fingerprint blood tests, shown above, which are done several times a day. However, they can be painful and cause skin damage (file photo).
Hannah now has a healthy son, Leo, but added, "Who knows what else could have happened?"
Experts say the tool has never been more valuable given the Covid restrictions on in-person appointments. Research shows that diabetes patients are more likely to suffer from severe Covid 19 disease. Some studies suggest that type 1 diabetics are up to three and a half times more likely to die from the disease.
Daniel Howarth, Director of Nursing at Diabetes UK, said, “These monitors have tremendous benefits for people with diabetes, reducing hospital admissions and improving disease management. However, there is still a loophole in terms of who can access them. There have been reports of people crossing borders into different areas to get them.
"Many regular diabetes appointments do not take place or take place remotely." Monitors could help – but this technology won't be used if we know the massive difference it can make to people's health. "
NHS England figures show that more than 30 percent of diabetics in England now have access to the devices – above the 20 percent originally promised. However, individual Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) made up of local GPs decide how to spend their budgets, and many still choose not to fund the sensors.
Pumps that deliver insulin into the body around the clock instead of relying on insulin injections are also rationed for financial reasons (file photo)
Diabetes UK today launches a campaign, Check For Tech, calling on the government to increase earmarked funds for diabetes technology. There is also a request to expand the admission criteria.
To qualify for the monitors, a person must have type 1 diabetes, have blood sugar levels within a certain average range, and have a condition severe enough to need to check glucose levels at least eight times a day.
About one in five people affected is eligible, says NHS England. But thousands outside of these categories, including those with advanced type 2 diabetes who rely on insulin, could benefit, Diabetes UK says.
In some places, only one in ten people affected gets the device
It's not just blood glucose meters that are being restricted. Pumps that deliver insulin to the body 24/7 instead of relying on insulin injections are also rationed for funding reasons.
The charity said its research found that half of people with diabetes had been denied access to technology in the past decade – and 40 percent of those who had difficulty paying for it themselves.
Hannah said, "I'm glad my parents were able to pay for the sensors because with a young family I would have difficulty covering the costs."
Prof. Kar said NHS England sent a letter to all CCGs last week asking them to look at the latest findings on the benefits of the technology and see if more people could benefit from it.
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