Insulin Discovery Centenary

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 1st September 2021.

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Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour

I thank Emma Harper for helping to bring the debate to the chamber and I recognise how close the issue is to her heart. I also thank Diabetes Scotland for its work and the informative briefing.

We often forget how far, scientifically, we have come in comparison to 100 years ago. We have already heard that, 100 years ago, diabetics did not have many ways to treat their condition and did not lead long lives, because there was little medicine to provide for them at that time. Thankfully, we have seen a remarkable leap in technology and medicine to help people live with diabetes. We have already heard the statistic tonight that 312,000 people in Scotland have diabetes, which equates to one in 20 people in Scotland, so it is likely that all members know people whose lives are affected by it. I have close family and friends who are diabetic and rely on insulin in order to live their daily lives. My dad has been diabetic for many years, so I have seen at first hand the changes that have come as he has lived with his condition, particularly technological advances in monitoring his blood sugars and administering insulin. I have also seen the universal power of insulin transcending borders. Once, on a family holiday to Rome, my dad forgot his insulin; I am not sure whether Emma Harper has ever had that experience. The Italian medics advised us to go to the Vatican pharmacy to see whether they had any of the insulin that is prescribed in the UK. Alas, the pharmacy did not have any, but the medical staff assured is that Italian insulin works just as well and duly prescribed him some.

Louisa Gault from Port Glasgow is one of my younger constituents; she is eight and was diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic during lockdown, having been rushed to accident and emergency, thanks to the quick action of her GP and practice nurse, after her mum and dad, Jan and Joe, noticed the four Ts—toilet, tired, thinner and thirsty. During an extremely challenging time for the NHS, the family has embarked on a rollercoaster journey in which insulin has played a huge part. Louisa is now insulin dependent and her intake of carbohydrates is closely monitored. At the age of eight, she already makes many of the decisions that Emma Harper referred to. Louisa’s family members have described all that as a huge learning curve, but they have commended the support of our NHS, particularly at the Royal hospital for children in Glasgow and Inverclyde Royal hospital, as well as charities, such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. At a young age, Louisa has demonstrated great courage and a desire to show that she will not let diabetes hold her back. She is a budding gymnast and tells her mum and dad that she wants to be a diabetic nurse one day, so I hope that the Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport will take note to reserve a future training place for her.

The reason why I mention Louisa tonight is to reflect on how far we have come in the past 100 years. Life has been changed and been dramatically improved by developments in medicine, such as insulin. Just think where we could be when Louisa is an adult, and indeed beyond that, with another 100 years of research and development. However, we must ensure that everyone who needs access to advances has it. We know that constant glucose monitors, for example, allow a greater level of freedom for people with diabetes by allowing them to understand their bodies and what works for them. However, as has been alluded to, access to those technologies is not always equal, due to variations in what health boards can provide.

I know that members will agree with me that we must do better to bring a more equal level of quality care to those living with diabetes. The Government has an opportunity to issue strong guidance to health boards to ensure that high-tech monitoring equipment is available to all patients who require it.

Diabetes Scotland has called for a greater public health approach to be taken to help our children to understand our foods and make healthier choices to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. We need far more work in that field to help us to develop as a healthy society. I hope that the minister will say something about that in her closing remarks.

With actions such as those that I have talked about, we can help people to have healthier lives and make Scotland a happier place, and we can create a world where children such as Louisa can thrive.