A sharp reminder of skewed priorities in the NHS

I was shocked to read in this week's Economist about the problem that diabetics are facing disposing of their insulin needles. As things stand, if you are a heroin addict you can ditch your used needles and get new, clean ones with no questions asked and no cost incurred through a needle exchange programme. If, however, you are a law-abiding diabetic and need to inject insulin three times a day, things are a lot harder for you.


To get clean needles as a diabetic, you need a doctor's prescription. Then, once you've used the needles you can't hand them in at the pharmacy (you have a different coloured bin if you're not a drug addict) and you have to get the council to come and fetch them, at a cost of £28.09.


Without wanting to state the obvious too much, this seems terribly unjust. 


I have a friend who is a type one diabetic and has to inject three times a day. He's a successful lawyer, and can afford the home deliveries his council offers, but what about those that can't? Diabetes is a perfectly manageable condition, and it is mystifying why used needles are not just used needles and cannot all be disposed of together in the same manner. Pharmacists sometimes, trying to be the helpful people they almost always are, discreetly recommend that diabetics 'pretend to be an addict', secure the correct colour bin and then they'd be set with free needles for life. I can't see my lawyer friend, or anyone else who takes pride in their non-addict staus, going for that one. So they pay.


I also have a friend who is a reformed heroin addict. She's probably only in the healthy, happy place she is today because of needle exchange programmes. I am pro needle exchange, in the long run it helps combat problems which would otherwise be an even heavier burden on taxpayers.


But not at the expense of decent needle provision and disposal for diabetics. Some health trusts give pharmacists enough money to dispose of any collected needles. All health trusts should adopt this approach.


It demonstrates staggeringly skewed priorities that those who voluntarily inflict a medical condition upon themselves (addiction) are getting a better deal out of the NHS than those who have a chronic condition they often had no control over (diabetes).  


It's not fair, and it needs changing.

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