Flagship diabetes prevention scheme to be rolled out with tech

The government arms’-length body has today announced further details of how will expand its efforts to prevent type 2 diabetes, which were first outlined in January in the NHS Long Term Plan.

“I’m delighted to see such a positive response among younger working age people”

Jonathan Valabhji

The plan included a commitment to fund a doubling of the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme over the next five years, including a new digital option to widen patient choice and target inequality.

Today, NHS England released a statement revealing that up to a fifth of places on the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme, around 40,000 a year, will be delivered digitally.

Overall, NHS England said access to the programme will also be doubled, so that 200,000 people every year can join it in either of its versions.

People who are at risk of developing type 2 but who cannot make face-to-face support sessions will be the “first to benefit from the expansion which starts this month”, said NHS England.

They will receive wearable tech that monitors levels of exercise, apps that allow users to access health coaches and educational content, online peer support groups, and the ability to set and monitor goals electronically.

“The success of the pilot’s early findings shows we are breaking new ground”

Jennifer Smith

A joint commitment by NHS England, Public Health England and Diabetes UK, the scheme is the largest of its kind in the world and over 100,000 people have already benefited since its introduction in 2016.

The three organisations insisted that trial versions of it using the technology had already boosted uptake and were “vital” in reaching a wider pool of people.

NHS England said that that pilot schemes offering “convenient, 24/7 access to online advice” had “significantly boosted” the numbers taking up the programme.

In addition, 68% of those referred to digital schemes took part, compared with around half of those offered face-to-face support.

Other findings from the trials of the digital version, involving more than 5,000 people, found that it appealed to a slightly younger group of patients than the face-to-face version.

For example, 68% of those using digital support were aged under 65 and the average age of digital participants was 58, lower than the age of those using face-to-face interventions at 64 years.

In addition, 16% of digital registrations were aged between 18-44 years, compared with 7% of the same age group who registered for face-to-face support.

“This could be vital in reaching more of the millions of people at risk of type 2 diabetes”

Nikki Joule

Since its launch in 2016, people who have completed the programme lost an average of seven and a half pounds, over two pounds more than originally predicted.

Those referred onto the programme get tailored, personalised help including advice on healthy eating, physical exercise and managing weight.

NHS national clinical director for diabetes and obesity, Jonathan Valabhji, said: “The diabetes prevention programme has been a tremendous success for thousands of people already.

“This new digital pilot further builds on that success,” he said. “I’m delighted to see such a positive response among younger working age people, which shows how a digital approach can expand the reach of patients’ services as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.”

Dr Jennifer Smith, diabetes programme director at Public Health England, said: “The success of the pilot’s early findings shows we are breaking new ground to help those most at risk of type 2 diabetes.

“Many of us use on-the-go digital technology every day and this is a fabulous next step in diabetes prevention,” she said.

Nikki Joule, policy manager at Diabetes UK, said was “vital” that the prevention programme was “able to reach as many people as possible”.

“This pilot has shown that a digital version of the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme has the potential to encourage a wider range of people to participate,” she said.

“This could be vital in reaching more of the millions of people at risk of type 2 diabetes, and in helping to reduce the increasing prevalence of the condition.”

NHS England noted that type 2 diabetes was “one of the greatest public health problems facing the NHS and country”, with one in six hospital beds in England being occupied by someone with it.

It also highlighted that type 2 diabetes leads to more than 9,000 amputations each year and that the NHS spends more than £6bn annually treating the condition and its complications.

The NHS Long Term Plan also pledged that the health service will trial very low calorie diets that can reverse type 2 diabetes.