People with diabetes are facing serious illness because the number of blood test strips available on the NHS are being rationed to cut costs, a charity has warned.
Thirty-nine per cent have been refused a prescription for testing strips or had their prescription restricted, a survey of 2,203 people found.
The strips are essential to help patients keep track of their blood sugar levels. Failure to do so can lead to serious complications and even death.
According to Diabetes UK, GPs have told some patients that local NHS rules limit the number of strips that can be issued.
It accused some health trusts of setting “arbitrary” limits on the number of strips and said patients should be able to test whenever they feel the need to.
Test strips cost the NHS an average of £14 for a pack of 50, but some health trusts obtain a much lower price from manufacturers.
As part of the survey, patients said they had stopped driving due to concerns over a lack of strips, while others had stopped exercising - something that has an impact on blood sugar levels.
Some were unsure whether they were experiencing a dramatic drop in blood sugar levels that required urgent treatment, while others did not know how much insulin to take before a meal.
Diabetes UK said people with Type 1 diabetes or insulin-treated Type 2 need to know their blood glucose level so they can adjust their treatment accordingly.
Failure to do so can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis - which can be fatal and is caused by high blood glucose levels - and hypoglycaemia, which is caused by low blood glucose.
In the long term, high blood glucose levels can lead to serious complications such as amputation, blindness and stroke.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) also requires insulin-users always to test their blood glucose level before they drive.
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.
Diabetes UK chief executive Barbara Young said test strips were the “most basic of tools” for managing diabetes.
She 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 £10bn annually and 80% of this spend goes on treating complications.”
She said she was glad health minister Anna Soubry had made clear in Parliament that GPs must prescribe blood glucose test strips to people with Type 1 in accordance with clinical need.
But she said health workers also need to be aware that the issue affects those with Type 2.
“We now want to see GPs and healthcare professionals take heed 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,” she said.
Around 3.8 million people in the UK have diabetes.
There are three million living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and around 850,000 more who have Type 2 diabetes but are undiagnosed.
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