Client: British Diabetic Association
Campaign: Insulin pen needles
PR Team: In-house
Timescale: January 1996 - March 2000
Budget: within internal budget
There are up to 400,000 people with Type 1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes
in the UK. Without insulin they would die. In addition there are well
over one million people with Type 2 diabetes, many of whom also use
insulin as part of their treatment. Insulin cartridges for injection
’pens’ have been available on the NHS for 15 years, but not the needles
required to inject.
To have insulin pens and pen needles made available on NHS prescription
to people with diabetes; to remove a threat to blacklist disposable
(pre-filled) insulin pens.
Strategy and Plan
The strategy was based on working with the Government where possible,
but employed the campaigning efforts of BDA members at strategic
The BDA believed the strength of its arguments alone would achieve
results, so took the decision to avoid campaign gimmicks.
In 1996, the association sent a detailed paper to the Department of
Health, proposing that needles were made free on subscription, which the
then Health Minister, Gerry Malone, described as a sound, economically
based case. It was pointed out that the cost of the needles could put
people off treating themselves, leading to expensive hospital treatment.
Following the general election, BDA staff briefed all MPs and lobbied at
the Labour Party Conference. A petition was also presented to a
policeman at No 10 Downing Street to back the campaign.
Following further meetings with the Department of Health, the Government
announced in February 1999 that it would consult on pen needles.
However, it warned that it might blacklist disposable pens - the
preferred injection method for those with poor eyesight or dexterity -
to offset the additional costs. Two House of Commons debates and a
parliamentary Early Day Motion ensued, to secure the pledge on pen
needles and to eliminate the threat to disposable pens. In December, an
appeal in the BDA’s membership magazine, Balance, kick-started a letter
writing effort to Health Secretary Alan Milburn. Further meetings with
the Health Ministers sealed the details.
On 9 February the Government announced that reusable pens and pen
needles would be free on prescription from March 2000.
Measurement and Evaluation
Well over 200 MPs were recruited into the campaign and the Parliamentary
All Party Group on Diabetes took the issue up as a priority. Nearly
1,000 letters crossed the Health Secretary’s desk in the final stage of
the campaign, including at least 40 from MPs.
The national and regional press covered the campaign.
The campaign was an unqualified success. It combined the medical
expertise contained within the BDA with the massive lobbying potential
of its 200,000 members.
As well as the Government stating that pen needles and re-usable insulin
pens would be made available in England, simultaneous announcements were
made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The threat to remove
disposable pens was also lifted. Tony Blair welcomed the move at Prime
Minister’s Question Time.
The BDA is now undergoing a strategic review. It is planning to bolster
campaign efforts with an increased budget, and will be lobbying next
against the ban on diabetics driving certain classes of vehicles,