Diabetes health services in Northern Ireland have come under fire after it was revealed that diabetic patients across the country are being denied access to insulin pumps.
In what has been described as a “public scandal”, charity Diabetes UK claims that more than half of the 1,000-plus insulin pumps purchased by the department of health in 2011, at a cost of over £2 million, remain unused in “hospital cupboards”.
This means hundreds of people with insulin-dependent diabetes are potentially missing out on equipment which would reduce their need for multiple insulin injections and improve their ability to control their condition.
“This has happened because individual health trusts have not created modern diabetes services which would ensure these pumps are issued to the people who would benefit from them,” said Iain Foster, the local director for Diabetes UK. He added the lack of access to insulin pumps is evidence of how “disjointed” Northern Ireland’s health service is.
Speaking at a recent seminar in Belfast, diabetes specialist nurse Sally Friffina called on the NHS and the government to work towards making insulin pumps, which cost around £2,750 per device, available to all adult type 1 patients “in line with the health care guidance”.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said health care trusts provide access to pumps to around 611 adults and children with the disease in Northern Ireland, “but due to competing pressures for limited HSC funding there are waiting lists to start treatment.”
In a statement to the BBC, they revealed that the huge batch of new and replacement pumps purchased for the NHS in 2011/12 “are expected to be phased in over approximately four years and will significantly reduce the time patients wait for this therapy.”
The spokesperson also said insulin pump therapy was “not suitable” for everyone with Type 1 diabetes, as it “requires diabetes education and support from specialist nurses and dieticians”, along with a high level of self-motivation.
“The patient must be committed to monitoring a minimum of four times a day and be able to flexibly adjust their insulin therapy according to their blood sugars, diet and physical activity,” they added. “This is a higher daily level of commitment than multi-dose insulin regimes and patients who cannot maintain this level of commitment are at risk of suffering major and life-threatening complications.”

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