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Type 1 Diabetes (Young People)

April 30, 2014

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)

From our joint experience on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I am well aware that Mr Howarth has a robustness at times, and perhaps he would have liked to be judge and jury in today’s debate. I congratulate him, above all, on bringing the subject to the House. I am well aware that, as alluded to earlier, these are issues that are very close to his heart, and he speaks with immense knowledge and passion about this particular affliction.

I wish to contribute a few words to the debate, because the subject has been raised a number of times with me at constituency level in recent months. As we have heard, type 1 diabetes is a chronic and life-threatening auto-immune condition, which is caused when the body mistakenly attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. It is a separate and distinct condition from the more common and perhaps more widely known type 2 diabetes.

Estimates put the number of people in the UK with type 1 diabetes at as high as 400,000, which means that each and every MP in the UK has, on average, some 500 constituents suffering with type 1. As recently as 2010-11, it was thought that the direct and indirect cost of type 1 diabetes alone to the UK was around £1.9 billion; judging by the growing rate of increase, it is feared that by 2036 that figure could rise to some £4.2 billion each and every year.

A few months ago, a mother in my constituency wrote to me explaining exactly what life was like, day by day, hour by hour, caring for her young child with type 1 diabetes. She described how her experience reminds her daily of the urgency and importance of finding a cure. My old friend and colleague on Kensington and Chelsea council, Rupert Cecil, has a delightful 10-year-old daughter, whom I have got to know throughout her life; she has similarly suffered from type 1 since infancy and requires constant monitoring. Rupert and his wife, Juliet, have tirelessly raised funds for and awareness of the condition since Polly was diagnosed with this life-threatening and incurable illness at the age of two and a half.

From the outside, Polly is just like any other 10-year-old, but a close look may reveal a wire poking out from under her school uniform and attached to something resembling a money belt. This is the insulin pump that Polly relies on from day to day. It is the artificial pancreas to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. She is attached to it each and every day and will be for the rest of her life. Without it, she could not survive longer than 24 hours. In addition to her insulin pump, her parents must test her blood by pricking her finger at least five times a day. They often have to wake her in the middle of the night to give her glucose if her sugar levels have dropped dangerously, or some insulin if they are running high. That is the daily tightrope that is walked by each and every parent of a young child with type 1 diabetes.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck, Labour)

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying about his friend’s young child, but many young people, particularly in areas of social deprivation, cannot access insulin pumps unless they buy them, and I believe that they cost around £1,500 or £2,000. If people do not have the money, many of them suffer greatly.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)

That is a fair comment and I hope the Minister will comment on it.

I want to touch on an imaginative and innovative scheme in my constituency at St Mary’s hospital, Paddington, which is part of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and which I visited recently. I hope that it will not only raise awareness, but reduce the cost to which the hon. Gentleman referred. During my recent visit, I discussed the everyday realities for diabetes sufferers.

The International Centre for Circulatory Health is based on the St Mary’s hospital campus of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, just behind Paddington station. Imperial college has published some of the lowest amputation rates in the world from its diabetic foot service, led by Dr Jonathan Valabhji. It has a large diabetes technology centre that is closely linked with a research programme developing closed-loop insulin delivery for type 1 diabetics and novel continuous glucose sensor devices. Its clinical technology research is led by Dr Nick Oliver, who talked me through the pioneering work he is doing to develop the artificial pancreas system for everyone with type 1 diabetes. I hope that that will also reduce the costs to which reference was made earlier.

That ground-breaking research aims to offer the next best thing to a cure for type 1 diabetes patients in the future. I saw for myself how a small, discreet device, connected to the blood stream via micro-needles, can monitor glucose levels. When paired with insulin and glucagon pumps, the artificial pancreas should be able to give diabetics an approximate response to blood sugar levels close to what a body would normally produce. With consistent levels of insulin delivered, sufferers are liberated from the constant monitoring and worrying that comes with the daily management of the disease. The St Mary’s site is just one research centre forming part of a global effort that could help to change the lives of many of the 400,000 people who are living with type 1 diabetes, and save the NHS a significant proportion of the money that is currently spent on treatment.

The artificial pancreas system has three components. Two, the insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor, are available. However people with type 1 diabetes face difficulties trying to access insulin pumps despite a supportive technology appraisal from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Indeed the national uptake of insulin pump therapy stands at just under half the NIHCE benchmark, set as long ago as 2008, which is extremely low and means the UK is lagging behind many western countries. There seems to be consensus among those working in diabetes research that greater investment from the Government is vital to drive developments in this area. At present, our Government invest less per capita than the US, Australia and Canada in type 1 diabetes research.

I am aware that there is some joined-up thinking, not least by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science, but I would be grateful if the Minister here told us how the Government will work to ensure that the sort of treatment for type 1 diabetes sufferers will be matched up to the level of other western nations, what more can be done to fund pioneering research, and how we can roll out the level of service received by patients at Imperial college to patients throughout the country.

I am pleased that so many hon. Members are here today. We all have our contribution to make and I look forward to hearing what they have to say. The 400,000 sufferers and their many millions of relatives and carers will be cheered that we are treating the issue seriously.