John Weekes is an NZME News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Bitter deal for diabetics

Pharmac-funded blood glucose testing devices are unreliable, sufferers claim

Carrie Hetherington (left) Vanessa Caseley and Heidi-Jane James with CareSens meters. Photo / Thomas Westwood
Carrie Hetherington (left) Vanessa Caseley and Heidi-Jane James with CareSens meters. Photo / Thomas Westwood

Thousands of diabetics - including the Health Minister's sister-in-law - are incensed with publicly funded blood glucose testing devices. Nearly 100,000 New Zealanders rely on tests of their blood glucose levels from CareSens meters and strips.

Hypoglycaemia, or low blood glucose levels, can cause sleepiness, confusion, difficulty speaking and a loss of concentration.

Last year, Pharmac approved CareSens products and cut funding for other meters, saving about $10 million. Health Minister Tony Ryall's press secretary Jackie Maher this week referred all queries to Pharmac.

Michele Ryall told the Herald on Sunday that she would rather spend $250 a month buying strips online than use Pharmac-approved models. "It's getting ridiculous," Ryall said. "It's getting dangerous."

Pharmac insists the meters have been independently tested. It advised people with concerns to contact Medsafe. "People have been using the previous meters for a long time and they trust them, which is completely understandable," said Pharmac's Simon England.

He said tests indicated CareSens devices were the most reliable. This week, Diabetes NZ president Chris Baty defended the meters. She said other strips read blood glucose levels too low, rather than CareSens devices which read them too high.

In response to a question from MP Brendan Horan in Parliament, Tony Ryall said Medsafe received three incident reports last year and 11 this year for an estimated 90,000 users of CareSens.

Nearly 3,000 people have signed an online petition against the sole-supply deal. Petition author Carrie Hetherington said her own readings were "scarily inaccurate".

Another concern relates to its use in temperatures under 10C. Horan said: "Even more unsatisfactory is the response from Pharmac, telling people to warm them up under their armpits before use."

CareSens products are distributed by Pharmaco, and spokesman David Pavey said they understood concerns. "While we acknowledge these and people's concerns, we also stand by the quality and accuracy of the CareSens meters."

- Herald on Sunday

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