Insiders say NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has suspen-ded its adult waiting list for insulin pumps – devices which reduce the need for frequent injections and allow people with severe forms of the condition to lead a more normal life.
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The Scottish Government published a diabetes action plan last year, which said the pumps should be considered a mainstream therapy and promised to promote them to people who would benefit.
However, it appears some patients in Greater Glasgow and Clyde will be denied the option or have to wait years for treatment. Sufferers were expected to confront politicians about the issue at a Question Time style event in Edinburgh last night.
One Glasgow clinician told The Herald: “It is an absolute disgrace. The health board is playing a game of who blinks first with the Government. The Government has made it clear people should be given access to pump therapy. The board says it does not have the money.”
Invented in the 1970s, insulin pumps are portable devices, attached to patients, which deliver a flow of insulin according to a programmed dosage –mimicking the way insulin is produced by the pancreas in people without diabetes.
Patients can alter the dose instantly to take account of what they have eaten. This can reduce the likelihood of potentially dangerous and debilitating low blood sugar episodes, known as hypos, give patients more freedom to decide when they eat and remove the need for injections with every meal.
However, the pumps are more expensive than syringe systems. They are said to cost between £1000 and £3000 to buy and the infusion sets, which are inserted under the skin to deliver the insulin, need to be replaced every two or three days. These, and other consumables such as batteries, can cost between £1000 and £2000 a year. In addition, patients need to be trained to use the pumps, often requiring intensive staff support.
Access to the pumps is a postcode lottery with nearly 5% of people with type one diabetes in Tayside using pumps, compared to 3.5% in the Lothians and 0.9% in Glasgow and Clyde, according to 2009 data.
Mary Moody, chair of the Insulin Pump Awareness Group, said: “We know there are some ill people out there who would probably benefit from having an insulin pump and they will not have the chance now. The pumps are life-transforming. I know from my personal experience, that it makes me feel more like a normal person.”
Mother-of-two Jacqui Moffat told The Herald she had been refused a pump even though she suffers hypos daily. She said: “If I was able to function for one day, that would be a dramatic improvement. As it is, I will never be able to go back to work or finish a degree.”
Jane-Claire Judson, director of Diabetes UK Scotland, said: “Other health boards are pressing ahead with their insulin pump service and we are fully behind patients in Glasgow and Clyde who feel so frustrated about the health board’s reluctance to deliver a service which they know can change lives.”
NHS GGC said in a statement: “Patients are transferred from conventional insulin therapy to insulin pumps on the basis of greatest clinical need and available insulin pump capacity. The insulin pump therapy service for adults provides six adult pumps a year.
“We do not run a waiting list for insulin pump therapy as the patients eligible for pumps are already in treatment for their diabetes.”