Pumps that could transform lives of diabetics lying in storage since 2011
Diabetic patients are not getting access to potentially life-changing medical devices because of a lack of funding and staff resources, a leading charity has claimed.
Hundreds of insulin pumps remain unused that could be fitted to children and adults across all five health trusts to treat Type 1 diabetes, according to Diabetes UK.
The Northern Ireland branch of the charity said more specialist nurses were needed to ensure diabetes clinics are able to provide access to the technology.
Parents of children with diabetes have spoken of their frustration at facing long waiting lists to have the equipment fitted.
More than 80,000 people in Northern Ireland currently live with diabetes.
In 2011 the Department of Health bought more than 1,000 insulin pumps at a cost of over £2m.
However, it is understood that around 500 are still in storage across the trusts. A breakdown of figures presented to the Assembly in March revealed the Belfast Trust had 172 'unfitted' insulin pumps. There were 100 in the South Eastern Trust.
The Southern Trust confirmed there are currently 109 unused pumps while in the Western Trust there are 97, and 93 in the Northern Trust.
Some consultants, however, believe it is not suitable for every patient. The device – which can cost around £2,500 – releases a very small amount of insulin into the body 24 hours a day.
There are separate pumps for children and adults and they can be a life-changing alternative to insulin injections.
Since the investment by the department, the trusts were expected to phase the use of pumps over approximately four years.
But Diabetes UK says time is running out and many of them may have to be thrown out as the warranty on pumps expires.
Patients are also facing waiting times of between one and two- and-a-half years.
The charity's Northern Ireland director Iain Foster said: "These pumps could transform the lives of anyone with Type 1 diabetes. But the system really isn't in place."
He added that the device can make a "phenomenal difference" for people whose current treatment is multiple daily injections.
"The trusts say that running the diabetes clinics is very intensive and needs a lot more staff time and they don't have the staff."
He said if the devices remain unused it is "a scandal".
A spokesman for the Southern Trust said it is planning to increase the number of insulin pump clinics in the next few months, and a Western Trust spokeswoman pointed out that insulin pump therapy is "not a matter of simply fitting a device to someone".
"It requires preparation of the person with diabetes by the diabetes team to ensure that the necessary skills and knowledge they have are in place to use the pump safely and effectively."
Unfitted pumps: Trust by Trust
AS OF MARCH 18, 2014
South Eastern 100
*Assembly question answer
AS OF MAY, 2014
South Eastern (paediatric pumps only) 36
*data provided by Trusts