23-year-old Olivia from a seaside town in Essex was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes aged seven. She has recently started using an NHS-funded Flash Glucose Monitor – a small sensor that you wear on your skin that records your glucose (sugar) levels continuously throughout the day.
NHS England made a commitment in the NHS Long Term Plan to make these life-changing monitors available on the NHS for people with Type 1 diabetes that meet the criteria.
Before she was diagnosed, Olivia’s Mum had noticed that she was extremely thirsty and drinking huge amounts of water – a key sign of Type 1 diabetes. Once diagnosed, Olivia was put straight onto mixed insulin injections, twice a day, alongside testing her blood sugar with meals and before bedtime. She later swapped an insulin regimen for multiple daily injections using Novorapid and Lantus when she was nine years old.
Olivia explained: “Living with diabetes is very much bittersweet. Every single day is different and there are lots of factors to take into consideration when managing your diabetes on a daily basis. Both hypos and hypers make you feel rubbish and you have to pay attention to keep yourself healthy. There is a lot of maths involved with insulin ratios and carbohydrate counting and when you are rubbish at maths like me, sometimes it’s easy to get it all wrong!”
“But on the flip side, having diabetes has given me the opportunity to make some amazing friends through meet-ups for people with diabetes and volunteering for charities. It’s like being part of an exclusive club and anyone you meet just ‘gets it’. Having Type 1 diabetes has also given me lots of inside knowledge about food, nutrition and how my body works and I’ve gained a huge amount of empathy for anyone living or caring for someone with a lifelong condition.”
Before she started using a Flash Glucose Monitor, Olivia carried her blood glucose testing kit with her at all times and would have to test up to eight times per day. She was pricking her finger and testing her blood sugar before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner and before bed. If she felt her levels were low, she had to test and if she felt her levels were high, she had to test. Before driving in the car she would need to test, and after driving for two hours she would need to stop to test.
Olivia said: “Growing up with diabetes, I’d never considered that a device like a Flash Glucose Monitor, where you don’t need to finger prick to know what your levels are, would be developed in my lifetime. It hadn’t even crossed my mind.
“But when I first started using a Flash Glucose Monitor in the summer of 2016 – I had to self-fund the meter and sensors myself as they weren’t available on the NHS at the time – I couldn’t quite believe something so small had such an impact on managing my diabetes”.
Using a Flash Glucose Monitor has given Olivia a vital insight into her blood sugar levels using the arrow feature to predict what’s going to happen next. According to Olivia, “that little arrow” has made such a difference to her diabetes management and has stopped her from over-correcting high blood sugars and over-treating hypos.
The convenience of scanning the sensor means that Olivia can check her levels more often as its less time consuming than blood testing and, when she’s on the go, friends and family aren’t waiting around for her to wash her hands and test. She can track trends very easily using the app, predict her HbA1c and send her results to her consultant when she needs some assistance.
On her Flash Glucose Monitor, Olivia said: “Since using a Flash Glucose Monitor, I’ve seen a huge improvement in my HbA1c as I can make informed decisions when taking my insulin by looking at trends. But, most importantly, it’s helped me have more confidence and improved my mental well-being. I find it easier to sleep knowing that my blood sugar is stable before I go to bed and I can confidently get in my car and drive off knowing I’m at a safe level to drive and my sugars aren’t dropping.
“With the new NHS England Flash Glucose Monitor funding and eligibility criteria now in place, I have recently received six months of NHS-funding for my Flash Glucose Monitor which will hopefully be continued for the next year. It’s fantastic to have so much information available at my fingertips.
“This Diabetes Week I’d like to remind everyone with Type 1 Diabetes to stay engaged, keep doing your best and make good use of the support given by our fantastic NHS!”