Diabetics suffer over Stormont stasis as there's no one to green light free cutting-edge test kits
A diabetes sufferer who pays up to £1,200 a year for a life-changing new testing kit has called for Stormont politicians to reach a deal so it to be rolled out to patients for free.
The FreeStyle Libre kit was given the green light for NHS use across the UK this month for Type 1 and 2 patients - but is subject to local health authority approval.
It means it is not guaranteed to be available for everyone, so people with Type 1 diabetes - who have a greater clinical need for the device - may get it free, but not those with Type 2.
In Northern Ireland, only patients with Type 1 diabetes, the most severe form of the condition, will be considered.
The device works by placing a sensor on the arm that allows diabetics to effortlessly test their glucose levels without using a finger prick test.
Around 100,000 people here Ireland have various forms of the condition.
Banbridge farmer James Kerr (50) has had Type 2 diabetes for over a year, and to date has had to pay privately for the Libre.
A starter pack, which includes a reader and two 14-day sensors, costs £159.95. The two-week patches also need to be replaced at a cost of £50 each time.
"Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease and will always get worse," said Mr Kerr.
"How you control it determines how fast this happens, this is why the Libre is so important.
"I live alone so if I become hypoglycemic in the middle of the night and don't show up at work, someone would have to come and check on me.
"Then they would need an ambulance and two paramedics to come out and spend an hour with me, with a possible stay in hospital. How much is that going to cost?"
Mr Kerr called on local politicians to reach agreement in order to make the change.
"It's typical of politicians here, they save pennies but they waste pounds.
"I find it very upsetting they're paid very generous wages and they're sitting on their backsides doing nothing.
"It's time they did the decent thing of either resigning or getting back to work."
Meanwhile, there was confusion for Type 1 diabetes patient Jane Patterson (48) from Newtownards, who was denied the Libre.
After a visit to a Belfast hospital this week she was told she couldn't be considered for the Libre as there was no Health Minister in place to authorise it.
She added that hospitals had been "inundated" with calls about the kit.
Having had the condition for 24 years, she has spent almost £2,000 over the last 18 months on Libre.
The Health and Social Care board said yesterday that it believed this was down to a "miscommunication" between Ms Patterson and the clinical staff and insisted that she was eligible to be considered. It added: "FreeStyle Libre is a glucose monitoring technology which has been available on the Northern Ireland Drug Tariff since November 1, 2017.
"People living with Type 1 diabetes who have an interest in this product should speak to their hospital diabetes healthcare specialist at their next routine appointment.
"An assessment will be made of whether the product might be suitable for them."
Describing the impact the Libre has had on her health, Ms Patterson said: "For me it's actually been a blessing.
"I've bumped into people who have had diabetes for 50 years and they say it's the best invention ever."
She said that the pin prick system many still use meant diabetics would have to constantly test throughout the day, including before driving and while at their work.
"If you have a young child with diabetes, you have to wake them up during the night and prick their finger to check the blood," she said.
"With the Libre all you have to do is run it down the arm, so there's no pain there.
"That means you don't have to wake children up, teenagers can go through school without having to test in front of people.
"It even works through clothing, so it helps with the anxiety of diabetes.
"At £100 a month, it does add up, and is definitely a drain on the bank.
"For me it would definitely be more cost-effective, so it must be for the thousands living with diabetes in Northern Ireland as well. It's also more cost-effective for the NHS, as far as I'm aware, than to test your blood constantly."
Benedict Jephcote, editor of Diabetes.co.uk, said he also hoped in time it would be more widely available.
"The FreeStyle Libre offers significant advantages over blood glucose testing alone and we hope that the system will be made available to as many people that wish to benefit from it as possible," he said.