Artificial pancreas technology set to benefit thousands on the NHS

More than 150,000 adults and children with type 1 diabetes will be eligible to access “life changing” technology on the NHS.

Final draft guidance from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommends that people in England and Wales can get a wearable device called a hybrid closed loop system if their diabetes is not adequately controlled by their current pump or glucose monitor.

The device – sometimes dubbed an artificial pancreas – has been shown to be better at keeping blood sugar levels within a healthy range, cutting down the risk of people suffering complications from diabetes.

The technology works via a continuous glucose monitor sensor attached to the body which transmits data to a body-worn insulin pump.

This pump then calculates how much insulin is needed and delivers the precise amount to the body.

Hybrid closed loop systems mean people do not need to rely on finger prick blood tests or injecting insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

Nice said it has agreed with NHS England that all children and young people, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, and those people who already have an insulin pump will be first to be offered a hybrid closed loop system as part of a five-year roll-out plan.

The technology will then be rolled out to those adults with an average HbA1c reading of 7.5% or more and those who suffer abnormally low blood sugar levels.

Nice guidelines recommend people should aim for an HbA1c level of 6.5% or lower.

Professor Jonathan Benger, chief medical officer at Nice, said: “With around 10% of the entire NHS budget being spent on diabetes, it is important for Nice to focus on what matters most by ensuring the best value for money technologies are available to healthcare professionals and patients.

“Using hybrid closed loop systems will be a game changer for people with type 1 diabetes.

“By ensuring their blood glucose levels are within the recommended range, people are less likely to have complications such as disabling hypoglycaemia, strokes and heart attacks, which lead to costly NHS care.

“This technology will improve the health and wellbeing of patients, and save the NHS money in the long term.”

Nice said that, due to the need for extra staff alongside specialist training for both patients and staff, it had accepted a funding variation request from NHS England for a rollout over five years.

Final guidance is expected to be published in December.

Around 400,000 people are currently living with type 1 diabetes in the UK, including around 29,000 children.

Colette Marshall, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said the new technology “has the potential to transform the lives of many people with type 1 diabetes, improving both health and quality of life”.

She said: “We’re excited to welcome these recommendations which broaden access to the technology for key groups including children and young people, recognising our comments to the consultation earlier this year …

“However, funding to roll out this technology to the people that need it is of paramount importance and we re-iterate the campaign call we made last month for Government and the NHS to agree this.

“We’ll also be working with the NHS to help ensure that everyone who could benefit from this technology has access to it as soon as possible in the phased rollout that has been agreed to achieve this.”

Dr Partha Kar, national specialty adviser for diabetes said: “This is amazing news for people living with type 1 diabetes and this announcement can be made possible thanks to the hard work of the NHS, once again trialling and testing the best and latest innovations for the benefit of our patients.

“This tech might sound sci-fi like but it will have a dramatic impact on the quality of people’s lives, not to mention outcomes – it is as close to the holy grail of a fully automated system as science can provide at the moment, where people with type 1 diabetes can get on with their lives without worrying about glucose levels or medication.”