Christine Jardine: Hard Brexit makes these people fear for their lives

writes Christine Jardine

Theresa May wears an insulin patch on her arm as she meets Donald Trump during his recent trip to the UK (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Theresa May wears an insulin patch on her arm as she meets Donald Trump during his recent trip to the UK (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Theresa May wears an insulin patch on her arm as she meets Donald Trump during his recent trip to the UK (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

I had a headache the other day and simply reached into the drawer for a tablet. It was simple. An everyday act I took completely for granted.

But a few minutes later, I had a slightly panicked text from a friend with diabetes. Had I seen the news?

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Had I heard the UK Government was stockpiling medicines in case of shortages after a hard Brexit? What was going to happen? How would she get insulin?

I’m not proud that my initial reaction was to dismiss her email as over-reacting. Somebody, somewhere was, I thought, scaremongering.

This is the UK in the 21st Century. Not only do we have access to state-of-the-art pharmaceuticals for life-threatening conditions but in Scotland all medicines are available free on prescription.

Then I checked my email and got a shock. The Government is indeed stockpiling medicines and there are genuine, serious concerns about the availability of a number of life-saving medicines if we crash out of the EU.

Now you might think that I am the one who is scaremongering, or perhaps indulging in an irresponsible ramping up of the pressure to halt Brexit. But no.

Many of the drugs which are crucial to those with life-long or life-threatening conditions are either not manufactured in this country, or not on the scale which we need. If you are in any doubt, do what I did and check the label on any pharmaceuticals you might have in the house.

The problem is a very real one, and any pressure is that being felt by those wondering about what the impact might be on their future.

And there seems to have been little reassurance from the Prime Minister who, despite being a type 1 diabetic herself, has described those who fear an insulin shortage as being “disadvantaged”. I know more than one person with diabetes who has found that expression offensive.

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Britain considers stockpiling drugs for no-deal Brexit
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To be clear, insulin does not simply improve, or alleviate the symptoms of type 1 diabetes. It saves lives. Without two different sorts of insulin every day, to specific doses, diabetes is fatal. Yes. Fatal.

And since that first email from my friend, I have had several more from constituents worried that the Brexit chaos we face could indeed put their lives at risk.

The anger I feel at the situation is compounded by the fear in what I read and hear from those individuals, a fear that is difficult to convey without reading their own words.

And so here are the words of one of them.

That friend, who sent that first email, is also a constituent and she has given me permission to use her words to describe how it feels to be one of those facing the potential reality of a hard Brexit.

“I’m 29. I’ve had type 1 diabetes for 22 years. Until last year, I lived with it quite happily. A reasonably friendly flatmate, we understood each other without necessarily liking each other,” she wrote.

“But last year a simple stomach bug brought home to me the reality of the situation.

“After 48 hours alone, dehydrated and struggling to breathe – with sky-high blood sugar – I called an ambulance.

“I had become so dehydrated my body was no longer absorbing insulin. I lay in the back of an ambulance, unable to drink water unless it was lacing my lips from a sponge on the end of a stick. I was without insulin.

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“Wheeled into high dependency, I grasped the consultant’s hand and asked her if I was going to die.

“It was a real fear which I now feel again as I think about what crashing out of the EU might do for my health, and others.

“Every morning as I reach for the milk, I glimpse my insulin in the fridge door.

“It used to mean nothing. Now, every morning, every evening, I consider how much I could go without. If I give up carbohydrates and sugar completely, how much Novorapid (the type I take to deal with carbs) would I really need? Could I possibly even change my diet so I needed nothing?

“But then there’s Lantus. That keeps me alive over the course of 24 hours. Latent. In the background. But always there. How little would I need? What could I survive on?”

For too many people, that fear is real. For too many people, an ideological argument about our relationship with the European Union is now about their health.

That, for me, is completely unacceptable.

And the crucial factor is not how serious any shortage might be, but that the fact of stockpiling is causing a genuine and justifiable fear for so many people. Another constituent visited me this week to express his fears and to ensure that I was aware of the seriousness of the situation.

I gave him a commitment that I would do whatever I could, as often as I could, to draw attention to and raise awareness of the situation.

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More than that, I will hold the UK Government to account for the chaos and fear they have provoked.

I will challenge them and their ideologically driven agenda.

I will demand that they listen to the people who now fear that this Brexit will cost them much more than economic disruption.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West