Diabetes Patients Face A 'Postcode Lottery' For Access To Patch Like Theresa May's

Natasha Hinde
Theresa May wears a diabetes monitoring sensor while visiting Blenheim Palace with US President Donald Trump.

A diabetes sensor worn by the Prime Minister is proving costly for many people across the UK, with some people having to part with £90 a month for the device while others receive it for free on the NHS. The criteria? Well, it depends where you live.

Last week, Theresa May was spotted wearing the insulin sensor on her arm for a trip to Blenheim Palace during President Trump’s visit to the UK. The device works by monitoring blood sugar levels, letting the wearer know when they need to inject insulin and removing the need for continuous finger prick tests.

In the Westminster NHS trust, where 10 Downing Street is situated, the device is available for free. Similarly, May’s home village of Sonning sits within an NHS Trust where it is available. HuffPost UK contacted Downing Street to ask whether May receives her patch on the NHS, but a spokesperson said they were unable to discuss personal health matters.

Georgina Syrett, 23, from Hullbridge in Essex, lives with type 1 diabetes and was offered a free trial of the sensor, which works for two weeks. But once the trial came to an end, she had to pay for it herself. “Because of the area we live in, it is not provided on the NHS,” she told HuffPost UK. “It is a postcode lottery.”

Georgina Syrett

Georgina has to fork out £45 for a sensor every time it needs replacing. “It is extremely expensive to maintain and I will likely not continue paying it forever,” she said. “However the sensor is good because you can see what it’s doing overnight and it continually tests.”

The sensor was given the go ahead to be prescribed on the NHS in November 2017 but its use is subject to approval by local health bodies and few places in the UK have made it available without charge to those who meet local criteria. Diabetes UK has created an interactive map to see where the sensor is freely available.

There are currently 86 NHS Trusts offering the sensor for free in England, out of 195. According to data supplied by Diabetes UK, 14 trusts are currently in the final implementation stages, while 21 are under review and 49 have no plans to make it available soon. There are 25 trusts for which there is no information.

The same data suggests that in Northern Ireland and Wales, the devices are available to all who need them and meet the criteria. In Scotland, six NHS trusts offer the sensor for free, while two are under review and in a further six it is not available at all. 

Matt Wilven, 36, who lives in Hackney, London, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes last year. He also has to pay for his sensor - “a little over £100 a month” - as it’s not available through his local NHS Trust.


“I think the sensor is worth the money and should be available to everybody with diabetes,” Matt said. “It takes a lot of stress out of the constancy of dealing with blood glucose levels. I learnt more about my condition in the first three days of wearing one than I’d learnt in the first three weeks of being diagnosed.”

Earlier this year, Diabetes UK warned that thousands of adults and children with diabetes are being denied the life-changing technology, also known as Flash Glucose Monitoring. 

NHS England said in the long-run glucose monitoring is actually more cost effective than self-monitoring. A spokesperson said: “Earlier this year we wrote to clinical commissioning groups reminding them of their responsibilities and of the guidance that exists when it comes to flash glucose monitoring, and other treatments for people with Type 1 diabetes.

“Ultimately it is the responsibility of local GP groups to take these into account as they make these decisions.”

Helen Dickens, assistant director of Campaigns and Mobilisation at Diabetes UK, called the delay “unacceptable”.

“We are urgently calling on local health bosses to give access to the device to those who can benefit, no matter where they live,” she said. “People with diabetes have already been waiting for too long. Every area should now have a policy providing access to Flash for free on prescription.”