CAMPAIGNS: Pushing the pen for UK diabetics - Lobbying

Client: British Diabetic Association
Campaign: Insulin pen needles
PR Team: In-house
Timescale: January 1996 - March 2000
Budget: within internal budget

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,

including HGVs.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in