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England’s NHS will provide artificial pancreas to thousands of diabetes patients

The system combines a sensor beneath the skin with an external pump (and limited user input).

PATRICK HERTZOG via Getty Images

England’s National Health Service (NHS) said on Tuesday that “tens of thousands of children and adults” with type 1 diabetes will receive an “artificial pancreas” to help manage their insulin levels. The hybrid closed loop system — a sensor under the skin that sends wireless readings to an externally worn pump, which delivers insulin as needed — can help patients avoid the risks of type 1 diabetes without worrying about finger sticks or injections.

This isn’t the first device of its kind. Tandem makes similar insulin pumps in the US after it received FDA authorization in 2019. Gizmodo notes that another company called iLet got FDA approval for a similar device last year. Although the NHS hasn’t said which specific device(s) its program will use, what’s different here is the nation’s publicly funded health care system providing them for free rather than as an exclusive privilege for the well-to-do. (Sigh.)

The hybrid closed loop system starts with a sensor implanted beneath the skin, which continually monitors glucose levels at regular intervals. The sensor sends that data wirelessly to a pump, worn externally, which delivers the proper insulin dosage. The “hybrid” part of its name comes from the fact that some user input, including entering carb intake, is still required in the otherwise self-regulating system.

The government agency gave an ultra-precise figure of 269,095 people in England living with type 1 diabetes, highlighting how many folks could potentially benefit from the rollout. The NHS says local branches will begin identifying patients for the program starting on Tuesday.

“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,” Colette Marshall, chief executive of Diabetes UK, wrote in the NHS’s press release announcing the rollout. “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.”