NHS Lothian cuts 'crucial' diabetes treatment as MSP warns of 'postcode lottery' due to funding constraints

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Insulin pumps have been limited to children and pregnant women.

NHS Lothian has restricted access to a ‘crucial’ new diabetes treatment in a move blamed on funding constraints.

The health board said it had taken a ‘difficult decision’ to limit the availability of insulin pumps to children and pregnant women amid ‘exponentially’ rising demand for the technology.

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One woman who used a hybrid closed loop pump, which allow patients to administer insulin and monitor their glucose levels constantly, was told money for the device had been pulled after having received it.

A ‘crucial’ diabetes treatment has been restricted by NHS LothianA ‘crucial’ diabetes treatment has been restricted by NHS Lothian
A ‘crucial’ diabetes treatment has been restricted by NHS Lothian

An MSP warned of a ‘postcode lottery’, claiming Scottish Government mismanagement had forced the health board to ration the devices.

Miles Briggs, Tory member for the Lothians, said: “I understand the impossible position NHS Lothian have been put in by the Scottish Government in terms of funding.

“But the patients losing out here won’t care who’s to blame. The bottom line is that a crucial treatment for diabetes patients is now being limited, and that will have a negative impact on their wellbeing and quality of life.

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“The Scottish Government put it in black and white that it was totally committed to improve the care of patients with diabetes. Yet its short-sighted approach and poor stewardship of the NHS means, for many patients, things are only getting worse.

“SNP ministers are creating a postcode lottery for diabetes patients, with patients in NHS Lothian losing out on life changing technology compared to other parts of Scotland.”

Mr Briggs has now written to health secretary Neil Gray to express concern over the issue. In a letter sent to the MSP after he took up the matter with the health board, a senior NHS Lothian nurse said it was ‘committed to improving access’ to the new technologies.

However, she added: “Within NHS Lothian, and in line with other Health Boards in Scotland and the UK, there is limited funding to provide this, with demand for technology rising exponentially.

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“NHS Lothian have made the difficult decision to prioritise the limited number of funded insulin pumps available to children and young people and pregnant women. This decision is based on the Lothian Strategic Framework and recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).”

The letter continued: “The diabetes team appreciate this decision will be frustrating for people who are waiting for technology. We would like to apologise unreservedly for the distress that this decision is likely to cause.

“At this point we can give no indication on how long people out with the priority groups identified will wait.”

A recent Institute for Fiscal Studies report forecast that Scotland’s Health and Social Care budget will fall by 0.7 per cent in real terms in 2024/25, although it is likely ministers will hand it a cash boost ahead of winter. The Holyrood government has consistently claimed its Westminster block grant does not allow it to fund the NHS as it would like.

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A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to  further increasing access to existing and emerging diabetes technologies.

“Between 2016 and 2022, we invested £29.6 million of additional funding specifically to support the increased provision of diabetes technologies, including closed loop systems.

“We have also invested a further £350,000 to accelerate the distribution of closed loop systems. Further funding for technology is being considered alongside other health and social care priorities.

“This funding was in addition to and not a replacement for local budgets. The Scottish Government provides baseline funding to NHS Boards, and it is for individual Boards to determine how best to utilise this funding to meet the needs and priorities of their local population.”

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