Pharmac's meter made his life 'hell'

Diabetic suffers blackout after using new meter

SARAH DUNN
Last updated 13:00 05/08/2013
John Bettany
MARTIN de RUYTER/Fairfax NZ
A MATTER OF TIME: Diabetic John Bettany of Richmond with the new CareSens diabetes meter and an older model that it’s replacing.

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Richmond diabetic John Bettany, 84, has grown concerned about the accuracy of Pharmac's new range of glucose meters after experiencing the first hypoglycaemic blackout of his life two weeks ago.

Pharmaceutical agency Pharmac introduced changes to its subsidy programme in last September which means only the Korean-made CareSens brand of blood glucose meters receive state funding. The move generated savings of about $10 million.

Chief executive Steffan Crausaz said on Friday that almost all eligible patients had picked up their new meters, which equated to about 100,000 nationwide.

People with Type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin within the pancreas, so they need to use insulin injections and food to maintain a balance between low and high glucose levels. High levels of blood sugar in the long term can cause serious harm, while an episode of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar is a medical emergency that can result in unconsciousness within minutes.

Diabetics use disposable test strips of reactive material and a pocket-sized meter which reads the strips to test their blood for glucose multiple times each day.

An insulin user for 56 years, Mr Bettany said he tested his blood about five times each day.

He switched from his Optimum FreeStyle meter to one of the three new CareSens models "as soon as possible" last November, but the transition did not go smoothly.

Wife Maureen said her husband had his condition well under control for decades until he started relying on the CareSens meter for blood tests.

"It was hell. Every day something would go wrong. We began to wonder what on earth was going on."

After several months of illness, a friend in Wellington suggested the meter might be at fault, and helped the couple obtain a replacement Optimum FreeStyle meter. Mr Bettany began testing himself with both meters each time he went to recalibrate his blood sugar.

Even when testing the same drop of blood, he found the readings differed by up to five millimoles a litre of blood.

He said his health improved dramatically after the change, and he plans to present his doctor with a notebook where he had recorded the different readings.

Two weeks ago, Mr Bettany found himself slumped over the wheel of a car, being revived from the first diabetic blackout of his life.

He said he had always been vigilant about testing himself before driving anywhere, and would not drive if he was measuring below four millimoles a litre.

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On the occasion he passed out, he had just driven a borrowed car from Nelson to his home in Richmond. He had tested his blood using the CareSens meter before leaving Nelson, tested again upon arrival, but remained parked in the driveway for a few minutes to look at the car's features. The next thing he knew paramedics were reviving him.

Mrs Bettany said his sugars were at one point four millimoles a litre when the ambulance staff tested him with their equipment. She said she was told the low glucose level should have killed him.

"To be honest, I thought he was dead. There was no pulse."

Mr Bettany said there was no doubt his glucose levels were not at a safe level for driving when he made the trip from Nelson to Richmond, saying it was lucky he did not fall unconscious on the road and crash into another car.

His main concern was for young children with diabetes and their families, other drivers and people who worked with machinery, saying it was only a matter of time before somebody was killed or injured after misreading their glucose levels.

He said he wanted Pharmac to give diabetics a choice by funding at least one other brand of glucose meter.

"It's one thing to get a meter, but it's another to know that meter is correct."

An online petition at change.org calling for the Government to "say no to sole supply" and provide more accurate glucose meters had about 3700 signatures at the end of last week.

Pharmac said the CareSens meters met internationally required standards for accuracy. It said about 300 of the 100,000 meters distributed in New Zealand had been returned to the supplier because of concerns with their performance, saying none of those subject to further testing was found to measure blood glucose incorrectly.

Chief executive Crausaz said patients should report any clinical issues with the meters to Medsafe, which had received 38 incident reports as of Friday.

Of these, 26 had had their investigations complete, and none indicated the meters was faulty in reading blood glucose levels.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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