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NHS to give wider access to wearable glucose monitors

Tens of thousands of people with type 1 diabetes to benefit

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The NHS is to provide wearable glucose monitors to tens of thousands of people with type 1 diabetes.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, made the announcement today to coincide with World Diabetes Day.

The wearable Freestyle Libre sensor does away with the need for inconvenient and sometimes painful finger prick blood tests by relaying glucose levels to a smart phone or e-reader.

NHS England will ensure the device, which is the size of a £2 coin and sits on the arm, is available on prescription for all patients who qualify for it in line with NHS clinical guidelines, ending the geographical variations that currently exist. 

From April 2019, patients will be able to receive the sensor on prescription from their local GP or diabetes team helping them to better manage their blood sugar levels.

Commenting, Simon Stevens said: “Increasingly the NHS is going to be offering patients this sort of technology to help them more easily manage their own long-term health problem. In the NHS of the future, for many conditions you’re going to get NHS support direct from your smartphone or wearable device rather than having to trek to regular hospital outpatient appointments. Supporting people with modern tools to manage conditions such as type 1 diabetes is about to become much more widespread. Innovations such as these also free up time and resources for the NHS as a whole.”

The pioneering technology should ultimately help people with type 1 diabetes achieve better health outcomes and benefits for patients include:

  • Easily noticing when sugar levels are starting to rise or drop, so action can be taken earlier
  • Giving patients more confidence in managing their own condition
  • Not having to do as many finger-prick checks

Dr Partha Kar, associate national clinical director for diabetes at NHS England, said: “This is an exciting and welcome step forward as the aim is to have uniform prescribing policy across the NHS, irrespective of where someone with type 1 diabetes lives. This will be based on previous national guidance issued - with the provision of updating it as further evidence accrues.”

The device will be funded from next year’s funding growth for local health groups which will allow access to flash monitoring throughout the country.

It is estimated that around 3-5% of patients with type 1 diabetes in England have access to Freestyle Libre but if clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) were following the guidance correctly, this figure could eventually rise to at least 20-25%. Currently, 144 of 195 clinical commissioning groups have signed up, and today’s announcement mean thousands of patients still missing out will now get access.

Simon Stevens added: “As the NHS prepares to put digital health and technology at the heart of our long-term plan for the future, NHS England is taking important action so that regardless of where you live, if you’re a patient with type 1 diabetes you can reap the benefits of this life improving technology.”

Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK described today’s announcement as 'a huge step forward'. 

“Today’s announcement…will be welcome news to the many thousands of people with type 1 diabetes whose lives will now be changed for the better by access to Flash Glucose Monitoring. Once in place, these measures should mean an end to the variation in availability and the postcode lottery that have dogged access to this life-changing technology,” he said.

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