NOTING that there was a shortage of lorry drivers and some space in my piggy bank, I decided in July to apply for an HGV licence. As background, I am an insulin-dependent diabetic (IDD), which means my driving licence requires medical endorsement every three years by my GP. Applying for an HGV licence entails further medical scrutiny. The reason for this is that IDDs risk hypoglycaemia if their blood sugar runs low. If not corrected urgently (we’re talking minutes) this could cause them to fall into a coma which would, of course, be disastrous if they were driving a car or (worse) an HGV.
Fortunately I am one of the 80 per cent of IDDs who have physiological signs that my blood sugar is going low, enabling me to act (eat glucose) and recover. All IDDs monitor their blood sugar. Until about five years ago this was done by taking a drop of blood from a fingertip (ow!) and using a test meter. Typically one would measure one’s blood sugar two to five times a day. About five years ago a new testing technique became available – an implant in the arm. This advance gives a vastly better understanding of blood sugar variation as it notes 2,880 data points per 24 hours as opposed to five. Better yet, it talks to a smartphone and can be set to alarm if sugar is going low. (I have mine set at 5.5, the critical level is 4 and things start getting bad below 3). If I’m driving using my phone for satnav the alarm will show up on the screen. It took a while (three years or more) for the medical establishment to accept this new technology, but nowadays most IDDs can get it. This means that the chance of an IDD having an undetected hypo while driving is vanishingly small.
DVLA don’t see it that that way as their approach to risk management, which embraces the EU’s beloved ‘precautionary principle’, is unjustifiably cautious. I say unjustifiably because a study by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary in 2008 demonstrated that the ‘annual accident rate for the non-diabetic population was 1,469 per 100,000 vs. 856 per 100,000 for the diabetic population as a whole’. In other words, diabetics are less likely to crash than the average driver. Yet DVLA still require three-yearly medical assessments of diabetics, despite the statistical evidence and the ever-improving technology.
To be fair to DVLA this requirement, like so much of the asinine regulation in our lives, came from the EU and, enshrined in law as it is, changing requires action in the Palace of Fools in Westminster. Nevertheless DVLA’s implementation of this unnecessary legislation is extravagantly incompetent.
So, in line with the HGV licence requirements, I downloaded the forms (DVLA medical stuff is almost entirely paper-based), paid for an appointment with my GP, had an HGV eye test at the local Specsavers, put it all together and posted it to DVLA. In August they wrote to me sending me to an identical eye test at a more distant Specsavers (apparently my local one isn’t plugged into their system). I did that. DVLA wrote again in September saying that the second Specsavers machine was unacceptable and sent me to a third, some 40 miles away. I went again, passed again and off the paperwork went.
Then they wrote saying they needed me to attend another appointment with my GP. We filled in the same darn form that we had before. DVLA then wrote again, saying they needed me to see their specialist diabetes consultant. I eventually made an appointment, saw him and went through the same form and questions yet again. He made the point that DVLA still required HGV drivers to take a finger prick blood test every two hours, even though they don’t for car drivers. Following this DVLA have written to say they need to write to my GP for ‘further information’.
It’s now taken five months and heaven knows how many man hours and cost for DVLA not quite to establish the scientifically proven reality that my being an IDD is no public safety reason for me not to have an HGV licence. Initially this massive waste of effort could be blamed on the EU; post Brexit that holds no water – it’s a disgrace that so far the denizens of Whitehall and Westminster have failed to remove idiotic and economically damaging legislations such as this from the statute book.
No doubt ministers would argue that Covid and the recent political shambles have got in the way. I don’t buy it. Why should a mild flu and a tussle about the name of the Prime Minister halt implementation of Brexit? Angry unions, weak politicians and pathetic management are doing more damage to the UK’s economy than war is to Ukraine.