- Sensor the size of a £2 coin measures sugar levels from cells just below the skin
- £96-a-month Freestyle Libre is available privately and use by 20,000 diabetics
- Manufacturer Abbott is in negotiations to make it available on the NHS for free.
An arm patch could change the lives of tens of thousands of diabetes patients by replacing finger-prick tests.
It contains a sensor the size of a £2 coin that reads blood-sugar levels from the cells just below the skin and transmits the data to a smartphone.
That would put an end to the frequent and painful finger-prick tests used to monitor levels. A study of more than 50,000 patients shows the technology has significant health benefits.
The £96-a-month Freestyle Libre system has been available privately in the UK for a year, with around 20,000 people already using it.
But hundreds of thousands more could benefit if manufacturer Abbott is successful in negotiations to make it available on the NHS for free. The device is particularly valuable for sufferers with type 1 diabetes – an auto-immune disease that stops the body producing its own insulin, preventing the proper regulation of blood sugar.
The type 1 form affects 400,000 Britons, usually striking in childhood or adolescence. Everyone with the condition has to monitor their blood-sugar levels constantly to check whether they need an insulin injection.
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 the million patients 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 – the system used for contactless card payments.
Each £48 patch lasts two weeks.
Abbott has applied to the NHS Business Services Authority 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.
Dr Ramzi Ajjan, of the University of Leeds, who will speak at the Advanced Technologies & Treatments for Diabetes conference in Paris today, said the patch had helped patients monitor their blood-sugar – or glycaemia, adding: ‘We want to see this system on the NHS. Patients with type 1 in particular would benefit hugely from this technology being made available.
‘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.’
Karen Addington, of the diabetes charity JDRF, said: ‘We believe everyone who would benefit from this technology should get it on the NHS.’
A Department of Health spokesman said the technology was being checked for safety, quality and cost effectiveness before a decision could be made.