A report released by leading charity Diabetes UK has found blood glucose strips are being ‘rationed’ to save NHS money.
One in five people with diabetes said they had either been refused a prescription for blood glucose strips, or had their prescription restricted.
When scaled up to the entire UK this would mean 58% of people with type 1 diabetes and 40% of people with type 2 diabetes have been denied blood glucose strips.
Nearly a quarter of people who had their prescriptions restricted had been told that this was due to restrictive policies issued by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
Public Health Minister Anna Soubry has made it clear that GPs must prescribe test strips in accordance with clinical need.
Diabetes UK chief executive Barbara Young said: “Test strips are the most basic of tools for day-to-day management of type 1 diabetes and insulin-treated type 2 diabetes, and so it is very worrying that so many people are telling us they are having their test strips rationed because of cost-saving measures.
“Rationing test strips to save money does not make any sense, because it is putting people at increased risk of complications that are hugely expensive to treat. Diabetes costs the NHS around £10 billion annually, and 80% of this spend goes on treating complications.”
A box of 50 test strips retails at about £25, but the cost to the NHS is lower, depending on the deal agreed by each area's CCG.
Dr Steve Kell, co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners Leadership Group, which represents CCGs, told the BBC: "Prescribing decisions should be made on the basis of clinical need and cost-effectiveness, not cost alone.
"Patients with diabetes should receive a review at least annually to ensure that they are receiving the appropriate treatment and that all prescriptions are suitable."
There are about 3.8 million people with diabetes in the UK. Diabetes UK says about three million have been diagnosed with either type 1 or type 2, with a further 850,000 thought to have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes.