Nearly half of diabetes patients are being denied access to vital blood glucose test strips, according to a new report by Diabetes UK.
The charity group found that widespread NHS rationing on the prescription of test strips has led to four in ten people with diabetes being refused the “most basic of tools” for managing diabetes.
Test strips are essential for all people with type 1 diabetes and those with type 2 diabetes on glucose-lowering medication, including insulin, who need to monitor their blood glucose levels so they can adjust their treatment accordingly and thus reduce the risk of developing serious complications.
For their research, Diabetes UK surveyed more than 2,200 diabetic patients in England. Of those, 39% said they had been refused prescriptions for test strips – up from 27% in 2005.
Most patients were told by their GP that the restrictions were part of to cost-cutting measures by their local NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), while others were told they were part of new NHS guidelines, or that they were “over-testing”.
In total, almost half (48%) of those polled said they had been forced to buy their own tests, at a cost of around £20 for a pack of 50 – the cost of a pack to the NHS is £14 on average – while the remainder were left unable to monitor their condition and fearing the worst.
Some were unsure whether they were experiencing a dramatic fall in blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) that required urgent treatment, while others were unable to drive, exercise or did not know how much insulin to take before a meal.
Diabetes UK chief executive Barbara Young said: “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.”
The worrying findings come less than six months after the Department of Health wrote to all GPs in England reminding them of the importance of prescribing sufficient test strips to patients with type 1 diabetes, who typically need to test their blood at least four times a day.

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