Last night, I attended an event at Parliament House in Canberra, acknowledging and celebrating two milestones: 60 years of Diabetes Australia and 30 years of the National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS).

I spent the night chasing down people who were instrumental in the establishment of the NDSS to thank them for their efforts and try to explain just how significant the Scheme has been in my diabetes life for the last (almost) 20 years.

I never knew diabetes before the NDSS. On the day following my diagnosis, after spending the morning seeing my new best friends (endo, CDE, dietitian…actually, the dietitian and I never hit it off), I took a couple of freshly-filled-in forms to 100 Collins Street in the city and took a creaky elevator to the third floor. It was there I was introduced to the NDSS. I handed over the registration form and then the order form. Box after box was piled onto the counter in front of me and I looked at the unfamiliar words on unfamiliar boxes wondering where I was going to put it all and how much it was going to cost.

A few boxes of needle tips for insulin pens and a few boxes of glucose strips and a box or two of urine strips. It was tallied up and I was surprised that it wasn’t a lot more expensive. I was given a card and told to bring it in any time I needed further supplies.

As I came to learn about diabetes in other countries, I realised just how unique the NDSS is and how fortunate we are in Australia to have it.

I proudly speak about the NDSS to diabetes friends from all over the world. Often, these friends are astounded that the NDSS is free to join and available to everyone with diabetes. They are astonished that the price of diabetes supplies is the same for everyone and not reliant on insurance. Often they can’t get their head around the idea that we can choose which strips to use for which meter we prefer, with no interference from an insurance provider. And they simply cannot believe that while there are some limitations to the quantities that we can purchase, the amount we can access is actually quite significant, and there are allowances and exemptions for people who need more than the limits determined by the government.

The NDSS is more than a diabetes supplies program. It is intrinsically linked with Diabetes Australia who was instrumental in the establishment and implementation of the NDSS back in 1987. Diabetes Australia continues to administer the NDSS and runs all the services associated with the Scheme – from diabetes camps, information events, information resources and support services.

But more than that, Diabetes Australia continues to lobby the government to extend the NDSS. More than five years of consistent lobbying resulted in the CGM initiative being announced and launched, and Diabetes Australia is actively urging the broadening of initiative to include other groups of people with diabetes who benefit from CGM (as outlined in the original joint submission from Diabetes Australia, JDRF, ADS, ADEA and APEG). Back in 2004, following a similarly consistent campaign, pump consumables were added to the Scheme. Recently, Diabetes Australia’s responded to the stakeholder engagement regarding the listing of Freestyle Libre on the NDSS with this submission. From the initial lobbying for the introduction of the NDSS to today, the link between Diabetes Australia and the NDSS has resulted in supporting people living with diabetes and making our lives easier.

The NDSS remains the only scheme of its kind in the world. It has enjoyed bipartisan support from consecutive governments.

Of course, our health system is not perfect here in Australia. I believe that there should be more funding and more subsidies on the NDSS. I don’t believe in restricting access to glucose strips for people with type 2 diabetes not using insulin. I know that a lot of people still find the cost of diabetes prohibitive and there is still a divide between those who can afford the latest technologies and those who cannot.

But the NDSS does go a long way towards lessening the burden in some ways and I certainly am glad – and proud – that we have it.

Disclosure

I have been an employee of Diabetes Australia (and Diabetes Victoria) since 2001. I cover all costs for all NDSS products I use.

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