NHS rolls out artificial pancreas in world first move

Tens of thousands of children and adults living with type 1 diabetes across England are set to receive an ‘artificial pancreas’ in a world-first initiative being rolled out by the NHS. 

The groundbreaking device continually monitors a person’s blood glucose, then automatically adjusts the amount of insulin given to them through a pump.

Local NHS systems will start identifying eligible people living with type 1 diabetes who health chiefs believe could benefit from the Hybrid Closed Loop system- sometimes called an artificial pancreas – from today. There are currently 269,095 people living in England with type 1 diabetes.

The technology will mean some people with type 1 diabetes will no longer need to inject themselves with insulin but rely on technology to receive this life saving medication.

This can also help prevent life-threatening hypoglycaemic and hyperglycaemia attacks, which can lead to seizures, coma or even death for people living with type 1 diabetes.

NHS England has provided local health systems with £2.5 million so they are ready to start identifying patients that can benefit.

The mass rollout of the artificial pancreas builds on a successful pilot of the technology by NHS England, which saw 835 adults and children with type 1 diabetes given devices to improve the management of their condition.

Each year, the NHS in England currently spends around £10 billion a year – around 10% of its entire budget – on identifying and treating diabetes.

Dr Clare Hambling, National Clinical Director for diabetes said: “This is another example of the NHS leading the way in healthcare, rolling out these groundbreaking devices across England over the next 5 years.

“This transformative technology holds the power to redefine the lives of those with type 1 diabetes, promising a better quality of life as well as clinical outcomes.

“Type 1 diabetes is an easily missed diagnosis so if you are concerned about symptoms – the four Ts – going to the Toilet, passing urine more frequently, with Thirst, feeling Tired and getting Thinner (losing weight), please come forward for support.”

Professor Partha Kar, NHS national speciality advisor for diabetes, said:  The national roll out of Hybrid Closed Loop systems is great news for everyone with type 1 diabetes.

“The device detects your glucose levels, transmits the readings to the delivery system, known as the pump, which then initiates the process of determining the required insulin dosage.

“This futuristic technology not only improves medical care but also enhances the quality of life for those affected.”

The National Institute of Health Care and Excellence (NICE) approved the NHS’s roll-out of the technology in December 2023.

Since the NICE announcement, NHS England has published a 5-year implementation strategy, which sets out a timeline for how local systems will provide the Hybrid Closed Loop system for eligible patients from 1 April 2024.

NICE recommends the devices should be rolled out to children and young people under 18 with type 1 diabetes, pregnant women with type 1 diabetes, and adults with type 1 diabetes who have an HbA1c of 58 mmol/mol (7.5%) or higher.

Health Minister Andrew Stephenson said: “People living with type 1 diabetes face the constant stress of needing to monitor their blood glucose levels to stay healthy and avoid complications. This new technology will ease the burden on patients and allow them to manage their condition more easily, without needing to draw blood or wear a continuous glucose monitor.

“This is a great example of how we are harnessing the latest technology to make people’s lives better; improving outcomes, reducing serious complications, and making care simpler.”

The hybrid closed loop system has dramatically changed the everyday life of Gemma Lavery, 38, from Plymouth. She received an artificial pancreas as part of the NHS pilot and calls the technology a “game changer” that allowed her to find a sense of normality.

Gemma said:“I no longer have to worry about work related stress affecting my blood glucose levels as the closed loop helps to sort this out before it becomes a problem.

“I can have a full night sleep without worrying about regular low glucose levels hindering my morning routine and I have found that my diabetes is more stable.”

Another person who has received an artificial pancreas from the NHS is 64-year-old Les Watson, from West Devon. Les has been living with type one diabetes for nearly 44 years, and experienced all of the technological changes in treatment first hand over that period.

Les said: “The user interface is clean, clear and straightforward to grasp, the information that is required by a pump user is readily available and not tucked away somewhere deep in a stacked menu.

“The system is not overloaded with complicated options making its day-to-day use quick and easy. As a user I now spend hardly any time interacting with the system other than at mealtimes or telling it I’m heading out to exercise.

Colette Marshall, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, said:“It is incredibly exciting to see hybrid closed-loop technology being rolled out on the NHS in England for people with type 1 diabetes.

“Diabetes is a tough and relentless condition, but these systems make a significant, life-changing difference – improving both the overall health and quality of life for people with diabetes.

“This really is a landmark moment and we’ll be working with the NHS and others to ensure a fair rollout that reaches people as quickly as possible.”

Since 2017/18, NHS England has made around £150 million of transformation funding available to support projects from local health systems to reduce variation in access to services and improve outcomes for people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

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