12/14/2011 09:30 EST | Updated 02/13/2012 05:12 EST

Nova Scotia government won't fund insulin pumps for young diabetics

HALIFAX - Young diabetics will not be getting financial support from the province for insulin pumps, Nova Scotia's deputy minister of health told a legislature committee Wednesday.

Kevin McNamara told the public accounts committee that the Health Department carried out an assessment and determined that the money for an insulin pump program isn't available at this time.

"We're not arbitrarily turning our back on this," McNamara said.

"The advice we have received to date is not to proceed with it based on the existing programs we have in place and other priorities we have to address."

McNamara said if he had a choice, he would fund long-lasting insulin rather than pumps because it would be of greater benefit to diabetes patients.

Katherine Fraser, director of acute and tertiary care, said program funding would also be needed to train support staff at the province's 39 diabetes care centres.

Fraser said government figures show there are 705 people under the age of 19 who suffer from diabetes in a province where 80,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease.

Health officials estimate about 40 per cent of the 705 young people currently benefit from the use of insulin pumps, while another 50 per cent could benefit from their use.

Insulin pumps monitor and regulate insulin levels while delivering the drug at a steady rate to suit a patient's need.

They can cost about $6,000 or more each. McNamara said a program to fund insulin pumps would cost about $1 million a year not counting supplies.

The Opposition Liberals have introduced several bills in recent years calling on the province to fund an insulin pump program for juvenile diabetes.

Liberal member Diana Whalen said she was disappointed that the government has "slammed the door" on insulin pumps for the foreseeable future.

She said 40 per cent of young diabetics are using the pumps without provincial support.

"That means that parents and families are making the decision either through their private coverage or digging deep into their pocket to pay for them," said Whalen.

McNamara also told the committee the Health Department was looking at reducing the number of blood glucose test strips it funds for non-insulin using diabetics.

He told reporters there are different numbers of strips for different patients based on need.

The province currently spends about $8.4 million to fund the 23,000 diabetics who use the strips, the bulk of which are non-insulin using patients.

There is currently no limit on the use of strips, but McNamara said the Canadian Diabetes Association recommends a maximum of about 150 strips per patient annually.

He said the Health Department estimates it could save up to $2 million a year if patients tested themselves in an appropriate manner.