Most people assume the worst thing about living with type one diabetes is having to inject insulin four times a day. I'm not going to lie, that isn't fun. But for me, without doubt, the most frustrating aspect of daily life with a defective pancreas is testing my blood sugar.
Firing a tiny needle into my finger to draw blood multiple times a day doesn't just hurt - it's not the easiest thing to do quickly and discreetly in the midst of a busy life. This means that, although I know good blood sugar control is important for both my long and short-term health, I probably don't do it as often as I should.
When I was diagnosed, I was given a glucose meter and finger-pricker, prescribed lancets and testing strips and told to check my blood sugar before meals, before driving, before bed, when I think my blood sugar is too high, too low, when I'm ill, when I'm exercising...
On some days, this can mean testing ten times or more - each time, stabbing my finger, squeezing some blood onto a testing strip and then waiting for the meter to reveal my blood sugar level.
In the UK, this is currently the only method of blood glucose testing available free of charge on the NHS. But for those who can afford £1,200+ a year, there is a far easier way of doing it.
Flash monitoring is a new technology - a small sensor that you wear under your skin. It stores your blood glucose levels continuously and you can access your readings whenever you want by scanning the sensor with your glucose meter (or even your mobile phone).
While it doesn't entirely take away the need for finger-pricking, it minimises it massively. And instead of getting a picture of what your blood sugar is doing at the exact moment you do a finger-prick test, you can see what your blood sugar is doing all the time.
You can upload your results to create graphs and charts of your readings to help you spot patterns and trends. And for a condition which you're largely left to manage yourself - calculating how much insulin you need to inject based on your current blood glucose level and the amount of carbohydrate you're about eat - this information is invaluable.
It can help you stay healthier for longer, prevent hospital admissions and potentially avoid some of the horrific complications of diabetes that are so costly to the NHS.
The government is now due to decide whether flash glucose monitoring should be available on the NHS in England and Wales - and to me it's a no-brainer.
I was fortunate enough to trial a flash glucose monitoring system at my diabetes clinic and found it so helpful I decided to self-fund it for a few months. I was allowed to keep the glucose reader I'd been given (which would normally cost around £50) but then had to pay £50 for new sensors every two weeks.
I'm not going to pretend it led to perfect blood sugar readings, but it certainly took away many of the things that put me off testing. Yes, I had to apply a new sensor every two weeks (which was daunting, especially when I first saw the size of the needle) - but it was relatively pain-free. I could easily test whenever and wherever I needed to. And as I wore the sensor (which is about the size of a £2 coin) at the top of my arm, most of the time I could scan it through my clothes and no one would even notice. It was far more convenient than having to get my full blood glucose kit out every time I needed to test, particularly when out and about or at work.
Flash glucose monitoring also improved my blood glucose control. I went from testing a few times a day to scanning so often I had a full picture of what my blood sugar was doing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It stopped the massive swings in my readings which often leave me feeling rubbish, improved the accuracy of my insulin doses and helped me prevent hypos when I could see my blood sugar was starting to plummet.
But perhaps most importantly, flash glucose monitoring meant I started to engage with my diabetes properly for the first time since my diagnosis. I learnt so much about how my body reacts to carbohydrates and insulin; I was interested in the data I was collecting and how I could use it to improve my regime. I finally started to feel like I was taking control of my condition in a way that didn't stop me living a 'normal' life. It was liberating.
But you'll notice I've been writing in the past tense. That's because as much as I'd love to use flash all the time, the expense means I can't. I plan to start using it again soon, but for now I've had to return to my patchy regime of finger-pricking. I'm lucky I can afford to use it for even some of the time though - many people can't.
I believe flash glucose monitoring should be available free of charge on the NHS and I'll be writing to Health Minister Lord O'Shaughnessy. In total, an estimated £14 billion pounds a year is spent on treating diabetes and its complications, with treating complications representing the much higher cost. Surely giving patients the best tools to manage their condition as effectively as possible will not only lead to the better health and quality of life for those with diabetes, it will also save money in the years to come.
I'm realistic, and I know the NHS can't fund everything. But I think this method of glucose testing should at least be available to children with diabetes, who often struggle to live a 'normal' childhood having to follow such an intrusive regime. It would also bring some much-needed peace of mind to their anxious parents who are left to manage their son or daughter's condition. Many wake their children up multiple times throughout the night to prick their fingers and spend their days worrying about their blood sugar levels.
But ultimately, I believe this technology should be accessible to all - not just those who can afford it.
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