Type-1 diabetics and the Brexit threat


Daniel M. Reast

In 2012, Theresa May was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. This was seen as a remarkable advance in the awareness of the disorder. Jump forward seven years and May has been exiled to the backbenches — but not without causing immense anxiety to diabetics, amongst others.

The potential shortages of insulin and diabetic equipment have been reported since the first threat of a no-deal Brexit. But since the short summary on Operation Yellowhammer was published in the past week, more calls have been made for guarantees over medicine supplies. Last month, health leaders issued a sincere warning to the Prime Minister, urging action to prevent any disruption to medicines after a no-deal exit.

Diabetes charities have been regularly in contact with both government and manufacturers to keep updated on the current crisis. JDRF, a Type-1 charity, was told in August that two of the main insulin producers were keeping 16 weeks worth of insulin stockpiled. There were also suggestions that ferry capacity was guaranteed for essential short-life medicines, such as insulin.

But that was before the Yellowhammer document ignited a more serious call for action. With Parliament currently prorogued, charities and healthcare providers are undeniably at odds with how reckless this government is. After all, it’s people’s lives.


“I am sure that patients will die”

David Nicholl was defamed by Leader of the House, and resident sloucher, Jacob Rees-Mogg who likened him to the infamous anti-vaccination campaigner Andrew Wakefield. An extraordinary situation where a government minister uses parliamentary privilege to attack the advice of an expert that his own administration had hired.

Type-1 diabetics are nervous. Their lives, like so many others with conditions threatened by no-deal, are at serious risk. The comments by Dr Nicholl won’t be warmly received by many — but at least it’s truthful. Uncertainty is crippling people’s lives.

Last month I put a call-out on Twitter asking for Type-1 diabetics to come forward with their problems related to the no-deal threat. I was shocked to receive not just details regarding insulin supplies, but concerns over the essential equipment as well. You forget that having the insulin on its own isn’t a saviour in itself — there’s a wide inventory of additional supplies, which some respondents raised as an issue.

One person reported they were already experiencing shortages in this area, with needles being in low supply. There are rumours that fly around that supplies are low in all sorts of areas, due to the stockpiling demands. The BBC reported last year that the NHS is finding troubles with the costs of stockpiling and maintaining a regular supply.

Someone commented with news that their partner, who works in the medical device industry, has attended conferences where “no-one has a clue what to do.” Type-1 diabetics are especially reliant on medical devices, specifically pumps, blood sugar monitors, and sensors. The costs of these devices are often high, and the pressure for both healthcare providers and patients is enormous. Without the ability to regulate blood sugar, diabetics are at serious risk of bad management of their condition or worse.

Several people were concerned particularly about shortages in specific types of insulin. The ‘brand’ corresponds with the strength or effect of the insulin i.e. long-lasting or a quick burst. Indeed, the necessity to prescribe multiple types is essential for diabetics to manage their blood sugar. Longer-lasting brands such as Lantus or Levemir are usually injected in the evening before bed, so to maintain an even level. Prescribing a rapid-acting jab alone would cause problems for patients. Being hyper/hypoglycemic would become much more common without a prescription that best supports the patient.

“Not yet but I’m terrified”

The logistics of stockpiling and supplies is one thing, but the emotional and mental health of Type-1 diabetics is in itself a monstrous concern.

Several people came to me to ask what I could do to raise this crucial issue. I’m only a writer. But I sensed a real urgency and desperation for hard answers, not government spin. People referenced their loved ones, some who have more erratic problems or bad management. A few used humour to mask their efforts to stockpile; others decried their local care authority for refusing to allow large prescriptions.

In a private message, one person described how their partner suffered serious complications from low supplies in March. They ended up in A&E from the instability of their blood sugar levels, and falling down a flight of stairs. For many people, having a loved one who suffers with Type-1 is a matter of commitment. You want to ensure they are looking after themselves, but not mothering them. Having experienced the perils of Type-1 diabetes in my family, having those experiences amplified due to a lack of medical supply would be deadly.

This uncertainty has been spun into anger and action. Lives are at risk for a whole host of different medical conditions. Not having the regular supplies needed to treat patients will kill. A Prime Minister that allows this to happen has no moral authority over their citizens. Indeed, stockpiling bodybags and making provisions for civil disorder post no-deal is evidence enough of a repugnant government.

Eyes must be opened. Put ideology and votes aside — this is a threat to life.

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