People with diabetes are being denied the opportunity to effectively monitor their blood glucose levels because their prescriptions for test strips are being restricted, the charity Diabetes UK has reported.

A survey conducted by the group found that, of about 1,300 people who answered a question about their access to test strips, 46% had had prescriptions refused or restricted within the last 12 months.

Of the respondents who said they had experienced such restrictions, 39% had type 1 diabetes, which Diabetes UK describes as “alarming” because everyone who has type 1 need to use test strips every day. The survey also suggested that 51% of respondents with type 2 diabetes are having their access to the strips restricted.

This is a problem, says the group, because people who treat their diabetes with insulin or other blood glucose-lowering medication need to know their blood glucose level so they can work out how much medication to take. Failure to monitor blood glucose levels effectively can cause the levels to go either too high or too low, both of which are potentially fatal. In the long term, poorly-managed blood glucose levels can lead to serious complications such as blindness, amputations and stroke, it notes.

The charity also points out that people who use insulin or other blood glucose-lowering medications are required by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to test their blood glucose within two hours of driving a car and every two hours while driving. Lack of access to test strips means that people with diabetes are effectively being prevented from driving, it says.

The survey shows that GPs restricting test strips is a significant issue, despite the fact that the Department of Health has previously written to all GPs to remind them that people with type 1 diabetes should not have their access to strips restricted. The new findings show that this is still an issue, says the group, which is calling on NHS England to make sure that everyone with diabetes gets the test strips they need from their GP.

“For people who use insulin, test strips are a vital part of the ongoing management of their conditions and it is simply unacceptable that people are being denied them,” said Diabetes UK’s chief executive, Barbara Young. 

“None of use would drive a car that didn’t have a speedometer, so it is appalling that people with diabetes are being asked to manage their blood glucose level at the same time as being denied the basic tools to do this safely,” she went on, adding that not being able to effectively manage their level is putting people at increased risk of long-term complications such as blindness and kidney failure.

"The really frustrating part of this is that GPs seems to be restricting access to strips to save money, but any short-term savings from doing this will be tiny compared to the long-term cost to the NHS of treating these complications,” Baroness Young warned.