Friday, 20 February 2015

More UK Government Harassment Of Diabetics

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I have Type 1 diabetes which comes about because of a disease or a failure in the body, typically before middle age rather than Type 2 which tends to arise from obesity or old age.  For some reason the current government is particularly hostile to diabetics.  As I noted in 2013 we are treated as if we are drug abusers and if involved in a car accident that was not out fault we can be arrested and the perpetrator let off:   The difficulty the police have with diabetics was re-emphasised recently as new laws are coming against drugged driving.  Diabetics are being told to carry medical 'evidence' or face being arrested as if we were abusing heroin or cocaine.  This is ironic because, unlike drug abusers, diabetics are highly aware that with care they can maintain good health and prolong their lives, so they tend to safety-minded rather than reckless.  In one step, however, people with a disability (diabetes has been considered a disability legally since 2005 in the UK) are now assumed to be on the same level as criminal and drug abusers.  I might as well have a letter from my doctor tattooed on to my body to ensure that even if I am beaten unconscious by the police who decide to stop me, the medical evidence cannot be lost.

Anyway, today's posting is about something slightly different.  Britain has long been proud of its state-run health service and its welfare system.  However, there has long been a concern that provision should only go to 'deserving people' and that both run the risk of abuse from 'scroungers' and 'fiddlers'.  Diabetes is one of ten conditions which means you get free prescriptions.  The reason for this is that I take four injections per day of two types of insulin and I take four other sets of tablets.  Each prescription lasts me twenty-eight days (when the doctor gets it right, sometime they only prescribe a fortnight's worth).  At the current rate of £8.05 per item I would be spending £629 (US$968; €849) per year just on the medicines, this does not include the needles for the two insulin injectors or the blood test strips which tell me my blood sugar levels and which I have to use 30 minutes before every time I drive and then every 2 hours of a journey, so getting through a pack of 50 a week very easily.  An acquaintance of mine in the USA has to keep down a good job to fund his Type 1 diabetes and it eats into the money he has for rent and food, the costs there are so high.  The UK prescription charge is a fixed rate not what I would have to pay to buy this medication and appliances on the open market.

With the drive of the coalition government to reduce public expenditure to the level of the 1930s they are incessantly trying to hunt down and charge people who are defrauding the system, that is unless they are high salary tax avoiders or bankers.  Today Diabetes UK reported that many legitimate diabetics were being fined for apparently trying to defraud the NHS (National Health Service) by claiming exemptions from prescription charges.  It was stated in the news that most of those affected were people diagnosed before 2000 when the need to renew your exemption certificate every five years was introduced.  Before them you had a certificate for life because at present Type 1 diabetes is incurable.  The NHS Business Services Authority said it was down to the individuals to make sure that they complied with the rules as they now stood.  What was neglected on the news was that even people who do still face fines.

I have had Type 1 diabetes since the 1980s.  In 2000 I was told by my pharmacy in East London that they could no longer serve me without an exemption card so I got one and have renewed it every five years since.  I have a current one at the moment.  However, even this has not spared me for receiving a fine of £96.60 (US$148; €130).  The letter was very threatening and starts from the assumption that you are guilty.  There is only a tiny section which tells you how to contest the charge laid against you.  If you do not pay within a month they add another £48-50 on to the fine.  Obviously I rushed to contest the fine, though of course they were not there on the weekends.  They finally admitted that they were wrong. 

Apparently the problem arose because they had an old address for me and that did not match the one I was now using.  I asked them how it came about that they did not have my latest address.  Every time I move house I have to register with a local doctor and from there my new address goes on to my NHS file and is not only used by the local surgery but also hospitals in the surrounding area so that they can call me for associated checks on my eyes, my feet and my diet.  I could not understand why they did not receive the same information as I had been at this address for seven months already.

It turns out that the NHS Business Services Authority is not connected to the NHS records system so every time you move you have to inform them separately.  All they do is compare fee-exempt prescriptions coming in against a list they hold and if something does not match then they send out a fine.  What this seems to be is a private company doing something for the government as so often is the case these days.  It does not bother with the processes in place and simply applies its own rules, funding itself from the fines it gathers.

There is a further unpleasant aspect to the Business Services Authority's approach and that it utterly disparages the staff working in pharmacies.  As I collect a prescription from mine every two to four weeks, I am well known in there.  However, every time I go in, I have to produce my exemption card and it is checked by the staff even before they accept my prescription.  Clearly however the Business Services Authority has absolutely no trust in the assiduousness or the capabilities of the pharmacy staff even when dealing with patients they are very familiar with.  Their whole approach is an insult to these professionals.

One can imagine that similar cases will come forward from those with one of the other nine conditions that have been treated in the same way.  I do fear that given this government has overseen two steps to harass diabetics what will happen in the next five years if the Conservatives are even part of the government let alone if they have a majority.  This is despite Prime Minister David Cameron having had a disabled son.  What will he next steps be?  To ban diabetics from driving even though no-one has shown any evidence that they are any great risk and certainly not more than the speeding Clarkson-wannabes who apparently are in full health?  Will the next Prime Minister choose to follow the path of Winston Churchill in the 1900s and seek the sterilisation of those deemed to be at risk of 'sullying' the Great British blood?  By 2020 will I find myself at a risk of not simply an unwarranted fine but a summons to an institution to house me where I will never return from and will be lost to 'complications'.  Remember the Nazi regime killed 70,000 disabled people even before they started the Second World War.  Diabetes is an 'unseen' disability so if people with it are suffering harassment what can be expected for those with more visible conditions?

P.P. 24/03/2015 - The Penalties
Just to sum up how horrendous the prejudice is against diabetics these are the penalties now in force that I will suffer as a Type 1 diabetic if someone decides to crash into me.  In contrast, they may walk away with absolutely no penalty.  This comes from the UK government official website:

"Prescription medicines

It’s illegal in England and Wales to drive with legal drugs in your body if it impairs your driving."

However, if you are involved in an accident that was not your fault they still can arrest you as if it was, because as a Type 1 diabetic you are no longer considered to be like normal people.

"If you’re convicted of drug driving you’ll get:
  • a minimum 1 year driving ban
  • an unlimited fine
  • up to 6 months in prison
  • a criminal record
Your driving licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving. This will last for 11 years."

So all I need to spend time in prison and get a criminal record is to have one of those Clarkson-deluded speeders shunt me.  If this is not discrimination against a minority, I do not know what is.

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