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NHS launches world-first artificial pancreas to treat tens of thousands with diabetes

05 April 2024

NHS England has introduced a groundbreaking artificial pancreas initiative for individuals living with type 1 diabetes.

(Image: Shutterstock)
(Image: Shutterstock)

The NHS is set to provide tens of thousands of children and adults living with type 1 diabetes across England with an 'artificial pancreas', marking a world first in diabetes care.

This device continuously monitors an individual's blood glucose levels and then automatically adjusts insulin delivery through a pump.

Announced on Tuesday 2 April, the initiative will see local NHS systems beginning to identify eligible people living with type 1 diabetes who could benefit from the hybrid closed-loop system, often referred to as an artificial pancreas. Currently, there are 269,095 people living with type 1 diabetes in England.

This technology has the potential to eliminate the need to inject insulin manually.

Moreover, it will also help prevent life-threatening hypoglycaemic and hyperglycaemic attacks which can cause seizures, comas, and even death.

To facilitate the identification of patients who can benefit from this innovation, NHS England has allocated £2.5 million to local health systems.

The widespread adoption of the artificial pancreas follows a successful pilot programme conducted by NHS England, in which 835 adults and children with type 1 diabetes received this life-changing technology to manage their condition.

Currently, the NHS in England spends approximately £10 billion annually, representing around 10 percent of its total budget, on diabetes identification and treatment.

Dr Clare Hambling, National Clinical Director for diabetes, emphasised the technology’s potential to improve the lives of those who live with type 1 diabetes. 

“This is another example of the NHS leading the way in healthcare, rolling out these groundbreaking devices across England over the next five 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 4Ts – going to the Toilet, passing urine more frequently, with Thirst, feeling Tired and getting Thinner (losing weight), please come forward for support.”

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) approved the NHS's deployment of this technology in December 2023. Subsequently, NHS England published a five-year implementation strategy outlining the timeline, which commenced on 1 April 2024, for providing the hybrid closed-loop system to eligible patients.

NICE recommends the devices for children, young people under 18, pregnant women, and adults with type 1 diabetes with HbA1c levels of 58 mmol/mol (7.5 percent) or higher.

The impact of the hybrid-closed loop system has already been felt by Gemma Lavery, 38, and Les Watson, 64, who have both experienced improved stability and quality of life since receiving the artificial pancreas through the NHS.

“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,” said Gemma Lavery.

“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.”

Meanwhile Les Watson, from West Devon, has been living with type 1 diabetes of almost 44 years. 

He praised the technology’s ease-of-use, saying: “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.”

Since 2017/18, NHS England has granted approximately £150 million in funding to support projects aimed at reducing disparities in diabetes care and enhancing outcomes for individuals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Colette Marshall, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, hailed the introduction of hybrid closed-loop technology as a significant milestone, promising to collaborate with the NHS to ensure equitable access and swift deployment.

“It is incredibly exciting to see hybrid closed-loop technology being rolled out on the NHS in England for people with type 1 diabetes,” Marshall said.

“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.”

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