In December, the Scottish Government announced a £10m funding programme to help increase access to new technology for Scotland’s 30,000 adults and children living with type 1 diabetes.
Research into the use of technology to manage and treat type 1 has led to significant advances and the government’s announcement is an important step towards making that technology more widely available.
For those with the autoimmune condition, which can hit anyone at any age, life’s reality is endless finger-prick tests to measure blood glucose levels, carbohydrate counting before each meal and multiple insulin injections just to stay alive.
It is a constant, difficult chore because the body often defies even the most vigilant efforts to keep blood glucose at normal levels.
As a result, the impact on sleep can be profound for people with the condition and especially for parents of young children with type 1.
It is often at night when dangerous low-blood glucose episodes occur. We generally talk about the impact on the lives of people with type 1 but all too often we overlook the impact on the immediate family.
Things that we all take for granted such as an uninterrupted night’s sleep or enjoying a pizza can require significant insulin-dose planning in order to avoid high blood glucose and the resulting long-term risks of serious diabetic complications.
But evidence shows that the range of new devices from flash glucose sensors and continuous glucose monitors, through to insulin pumps, provided alongside support and training for their use, can improve lives, sometimes dramatically, by giving back some control.
Flash glucose sensing is a new development in glucose monitoring. It uses a sensor the size of a £2 coin that sits on the back of the arm with a tiny probe just under the skin.
By scanning or ‘flashing’ the sensor with a device, it provides a reading of blood glucose levels, and tells the user what proportion of their time has been spent within target ranges.
A continuous glucose monitor (CGM) provides information on a body’s glucose levels every few minutes and transmits this data to a pager-like device. With a CGM it is possible to track glucose levels and how they vary for example while sleeping, after eating and during exercise, giving the wearer greater control over glucose levels.
This also helps limit the risk of dreaded hypos – dangerously low blood glucose levels.
The CGM is also fitted with an alarm that will activate if the readings move outside acceptable parameters, with clear benefits for children.
The CGM can also be linked to an insulin pump. Pumps take away the need for multiple daily injections by delivering fast-acting insulin every few minutes in tiny amounts, 24 hours a day via a device which sits just under the skin.
The user also has the ability to make more accurate adjustments to insulin delivery when needed. This technology is key in the battle to avoid the complications of type 1 diabetes but also gives the individual greater tools to allow them greater control.
The flash sensor, although licensed for use by both adults and children, is not widely available through the NHS at this point. The CGM and pump, on the other hand, are both licensed and available to some through the GP
Not every device suits everyone and every doctor will assess their patient’s suitability for the new technology on a case-by-case basis.
JDRF believes that every person who would like to use such technology, and would benefit from doing so, should have access to them.
New technology is making a huge difference to the lives of those with type 1.
The research must continue, but equally, we have to ensure that everyone can benefit from these tremendous advances.
Holly Davies is the Acting Development Manager for JDRF in Scotland