Treatment

Patch blood sugar sensor could be available free for diabetics in UK

by Barbara Hewitt on February 17, 2017

An arm patch that reads blood sugar levels and puts an end to daily finger prick tests for diabetics could be available free in the UK.

The sensor is the size of a £2 coin and is already available privately at the cost of £96 a month in the country but the National Health Service is now considering whether it can be provided as part of normal free healthcare.

The device reads blood sugar levels from the cells just below the skin and transmits the data to a smartphone and works day and night. Users can also take part in sport, including swimming as it is water resistant.

Around 20,000 are currently using the device called the Freestyle Libre and manufacturer Abbott is in negotiations for it to be listed on the England and Wales drug tariff which would mean it could be prescribed by GPs and specialists free of charge.

The patch is thought to be especially useful for children with type 1 diabetes because their parents are able to collect data from the patch by swiping it with a smartphone, even when their child is asleep. The device could also help those with type 2 diabetes who are insulin dependent.

The patch is placed on the back of the upper arm and a tiny filament, the width of three human hairs, goes through the upper level of the skin and reads the glucose levels in the substance between skin cells. The information is transferred from the patch to a smartphone by flash-sensing which is the same system used for contactless card payments.

Dr Ramzi Ajjan of the University of Leeds, believes it should be available. ‘We want to see this system on the NHS. Patients with type 1 in particular would benefit hugely from this technology being made available,’ he said.

‘Patients report that the system helped them gain a better understanding of their glycaemia by enabling multiple daily glucose checks. The system’s painless nature of glucose testing is praised by patients. The real world data confirms that patients are checking glucose more frequently, up to 16 times per day on average, which is cumbersome to maintain with the conventional fingerstick method,’ he added.

Karen Addington, of the diabetes charity JDRF, is also backing the move. ‘We believe everyone who would benefit from this technology should get it on the NHS,’ she said.

Those who currently use it are pleased with its performance. User Eleanor, who started with it six months ago, had always hated the finger prick test. ‘I had no idea what my levels were doing during the night and between meals. Having only been recently diagnosed, I was struggling to control night time hypos and I didn’t always wake up,’ she said.

‘It was a battle often to know if I had had a hypo in the night until I got the freestyle libre. Not only could I immediately see from the glucose graph whether I had had a hypo or not, I could tell when the lows occurred and helped me to understand what insulin needed changing,’ she explained.

‘Not only could I see the results, it was super easy to send it through to my nurse to show her what had been happening and she was able to effectively help me to change my insulin doses. In addition to the huge help it has been for night time hypos, it has helped me massively during the day. As a teacher I need to have very good control over my levels as it can be a challenge to check my levels with finger pricking if I have a low. Some days it’s so easy I almost forget I’m even diabetic,’ she added.

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The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.