Chief Executive of the UK’s NHS, Simon Stevens has announced a number of internal reforms such as stopping the prescription of certain drugs, the end of free travel vaccinations and the launch of a big drive to recover the costs of treating EU citizens following Brexit, in a bid to reduce NHS costs.

Rationing diabetic test strips is one such scheme but it is putting diabetic patients at risk of serious illness, claims a survey by the charity Diabetes UK. The survey found that one in four have restrictions placed on the number of test strips they were prescribed.

Diabetes test strips, sexual health services & gluten-free food get the axe

More than half of these individuals suffer from type 1 diabetes, and according to government guidance, type 1 diabetics should test themselves at least four times a day. Patients were given a variety of reasons for the reduced number of strips prescribed. Some were told they should test less often, others that there were “budget constraints”, and few were told it was because they were testing too frequently.

One patient said, “We use a pump, so need to test every two hours.” Elderly patients and those on low incomes have also been affected. Many said they felt they needed to buy test strips online, where quality cannot always be guaranteed.

Diabetes UK believes this rationing is against preventative care and therefore the cost of dealing with poorly managed diabetes later is far higher. Diabetes UK’s policy manager Nikki Joule said, “These shortsighted cost savings cause people real anguish and potential financial distress. It also means people are struggling to manage their diabetes, which can lead to serious consequences for their health.”

“£24m of the scarce NHS budget is spent on diabetes care every day, and it would be irresponsible not to make the most appropriate use of limited resources,” said Dr Stephen Lawrence, clinical lead for diabetes for the Royal College of GPs.

Patients of celiac disease are also likely to be affected by the cutbacks. Stevens said, “We’ve got to tackle some of the waste which is still in the system. The NHS is a very efficient health service but like every country’s health service there is inefficiency and waste.”

Gluten-free products are now easily available in supermarkets and the NHS is hoping to stop its £22 million spending on paying for gluten-free prescriptions. However the cutbacks have also caused the rationing of care in district nursing, hip replacement operations, sexual health services and neonatal care.

The service is coming down on a number of different areas

“Part of what we are trying to do is make sure that we make enough headroom to spend money on innovative new drugs by not wasting it on these kind of items,” Stevens said.

In this vein, the NHS is set to review 10 drugs that it deems “ineffective, unnecessary [and] inappropriate for prescription on the NHS, or indeed unsafe”, which together cost the service £128m a year. They include omega 3 fish oils and several painkillers, including some for terminally ill cancer patients.

NHS leadership also wants to introduce new health tourism rules to ensure GPs record all EU patients so that money for procedures can be paid back by the patient’s home country. They also hope to empty large numbers of hospital beds currently filled with elderly patients who should be at home.

This is because the patient cannot be discharged either as there are no spaces in care homes or because facilities such as a stair-lift have not been set up for them at home. NHS boss Stevens also suggested that families could help take the pressure off the NHS by monitoring their children’s diets more closely and by ensuring their elderly relatives do not become isolated.

Although doctors are seeing fewer patients than ever, they are also more stressed than ever. A survey by the Royal College of Anaesthetists has found that more than 2,300 trainee anaesthetists are at risk of burning out.

Inadequate planning, poor hospital planning and depleting numbers of nursing staff are to blame. Following Britain’s exit from the European Union, record numbers of nurses are quitting. However Stevens remains optimistic saying that millions of pounds could be saved by the NHS simply ‘getting its own house in order’ and reducing waste. MIMS

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