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Friday, 29 April 2016

Where Have All the Test Strips Gone?

Imagine if you were told you were no longer allowed to access the tools that you needed to make proper decisions about your diabetes care. In a disease that requires us to constantly analyse our healthcare decisions, how would you manage your highs and lows if you didn't know they were even happening? How do you know how much that extra mouthful of dinner affect your glucose levels? Does the thought of having no way to tell how your body is being affected by your diabetes scare you? 

Stop imagining. This is now the reality for a lot of Australians living with Type 2 Diabetes.

"From July 1, all people with type 2 diabetes who are not using insulin can purchase an initial six months’ supply of subsidised blood glucose test strips.

After six months, people with type 2 diabetes who are not using insulin can access subsidised test strips if their doctor or an authorised health professional wants them to continue testing. This change follows the independent advice of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.
Importantly, if a person needs access to subsidised blood glucose test strips for clinical reasons, they will continue to receive access. This may include people with gestational diabetes, on certain medications or people with inter-current illnesses."
Its hard to process exactly how awful these changes really are. I have Type 1 Diabetes, so I will continue to recieve subsidised test strips. However, all types of diabetes can end in the same dire consequences if we are not given the tools we need to adequately control our diabetes. 

The message that is being given to people with Type 2 Diabetes is that their diabetes care, and by extension, total health care, is not important or a priority. That their feet, eyes, kidneys or even lives are easily expendable in order to subsidise the debt and expenditure of Queensland Nickel. 

Many of the messages that people with diabetes see about their disease are the messages of prevention - the message that you should not end up like us, to be healthy, exercise, eat well, take the stairs, quit smoking and never drink alcohol. Yet in this case, that message is quite the opposite. Blood glucose testing is a reliable, in the long-run inexpensive way to prevent complications that are far more costly to the healthcare system than test strips. Furthermore, people with diabetes are encouraged to enjoy a healthy lifestyle to help prevent these complications  - but being healthy is much harder when people with diabetes are being denied access to an integral part of their diabetes care. Oral medications for Type 2 Diabetes can cause hypoglycaemia, which can be very dangerous, and needs to be treated immediately. Exercise may become a thing of the past to those who do not have access to test strips, as it can be very hard to manage safely, which anyone using any form of hypoglycaemic agents will know. 

Without access to blood glucose testing supplies, how do those with Type 2 Diabetes know when its time for them to move on from diet control to medication, and from medication to insulin? Without test strips, a person might remain hyperglycaemia for months on end with no idea, especially if they are not receiving regular HbA1c tests (which, with the changes to medicare subsidies for pathology tests, is more likely. I have even told my doctors that I will be moving from 3 monthly to 6 monthly blood tests in light of the extra costs). In some early-stage Type 2 Diabetics, where they are managed by a GP, they might only have an annual diabetes check-up. You also have to include those patients that are not inclined to seek medical advice often, and may ignore high symptoms if they are not encouraged to test their blood sugar levels.

The fact that there have been no provisions made for a patients right to take control of their own health is appalling. As stated, the ability to procure subsidised test strips will rest entirely with health professionals, and if they want the patient to continue testing. This further alienates the patient from their own healthcare, if they are not given the right to decide how closely they wish to monitor and control their own chronic illness. Access to doctors in some areas can be quite limiting, and this could negatively impact on the ability of a patient to receive that recommendation that they should continue testing. 

Having done my licence renewal recently, I note that this new policy doesn't seem to account for the requirement for anyone on any hypoglycaemic agent, oral or otherwise, to test their blood glucose levels before driving to ensure that they are above 5 and safe to drive. 

The implications of the decision to limit access to blood glucose testing strips to people with Type 2 Diabetes are already there. I hope that they will be realised before irreversible damage is done to any individual with diabetes.

Credit: Insulin Nation

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