Diabetes New Zealand is calling on the government to fund continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) for people with type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes NZ is urging the government to take action to ensure that 25,000 Kiwis living with type 1 diabetes, many of them children and teenagers, can live well.
People with type 1 diabetes produce no insulin and require multiple daily insulin injections and intensive glucose monitoring to maintain life.
This new technology means an end to finger prick testing and better control of glucose levels. The devices have been heralded as life-changing by people with type 1 diabetes around the world and have only been available in New Zealand since September 2017. In March 2018, they were approved for use by children aged 4 – 17 years.
Type 1 diabetes is commonly diagnosed in children, which means parents have to test their children’s blood glucose levels every three hours, day and night using a painful pin prick test to draw blood.
The dangers of untreated low blood glucose levels include hypoglycaemia, coma and even death.
Diabetes NZ is advocating for the government to fully subsidise all CGMs, one of which is the Freestyle Libre glucose monitoring system. Freestyle Libre uses a sensor that is applied to the skin and an electronic reader which records glucose levels at least every 15 minutes for up to eight hours at a time.
This would relieve the need for New Zealanders with type 1 diabetes to have up to 15 painful finger pricks per day to draw blood for them to check their blood glucose levels. Because it disrupts the flow of daily life, many people with type 1 diabetes do not test their blood glucose levels as often as they should, leading to less effective management of their condition and subsequent remedial medical costs.
“We call it the three-hour disease,” Ruby McGill, Director of Youth at Diabetes New Zealand and mother of two, says. She has been living with type 1 diabetes since she was 14.
“Constantly stopping what you’re doing to test your blood sugar levels is exhausting. But if it’s not checked every three hours it could be life-threatening. The Freestyle Libre has been a game changer by giving me the freedom to get on with living my life. It really redefines how Kiwis manage their diabetes, but as it’s not currently funded, the life-changing benefits are only available to those that can afford the $2400 a year in running costs,” McGill says.
“Having to constantly check your blood sugar levels can be mentally exhausting. But it’s essential if we want to live well with diabetes. Using a CGM and seeing what my blood sugars are doing has given me the confidence to get on with living my life. This technology redefines how Kiwis manage their diabetes, improving the health and wellbeing of the entire whanau. But because CGMs are not funded the majority of people living with or caring for someone with Type 1 diabetes will never experience these life-changing, life-saving benefits. And that’s not good enough.”
The effect of funding continuous glucose monitors will reach further than just people with diabetes. Families of people with type 1 diabetes can also experience distress, exhaustion and anxiety due to constant blood sugar monitoring.
That’s the experience of the Wiggins family from Auckland who have two young children with type 1 diabetes.
“We pay for the Freestyle Libre for both our children, so they don’t have to go through the pain of finger pricking a minimum of six times a day. The system gives us information that finger pricking doesn’t, including their blood glucose trends. We can see a graph of their levels throughout the day and night,” mum Lisa Wiggins says.
“We have had multiple hospital admissions and sometimes hospital staff request blood glucose checks every two hours but having the Freestyle Libre means we don’t have to finger-prick. It’s been a godsend.”
The Wiggins family are paying $400 a month to use Freestyle Libre continuous glucose monitors for both their young children with type 1 diabetes and are calling on the government to fund the life-changing devices.
“In Australia, young people under 21 have continuous glucose monitors fully funded, so why is New Zealand so far behind? So many families here are struggling to get quality equipment and affordable meds and meters,” Wiggins says.
The UK, France, Germany and Japan are among the 17 countries that already offer full or partial subsidies for the Freestyle Libre system. In Australia, people under 21 years old are eligible for two fully subsidised brands of continuous glucose monitors.
While not the only product of its type, the annual cost of using the Freestyle Libre is about half that of other monitors available.
Research shows that continuous glucose monitoring systems offer a psychological reprieve from having to finger prick test, while increasing daily diagnostic results from six tests to at least 96. CGMs involve the needle insertion of a small device once every six to 14 days that transmit to either an insulin pump or smart phone.
The systems reduce the risk of complications and ultimately save on national health costs due to reduced hospital admissions from hypoglycaemia episodes and other long-term diabetes related complications.