02 December, 2021

Life changing device for people with diabetes given green light by Welsh health technology experts

A life-changing’ device for people with diabetes has been recommended for routine use in the Welsh NHS by Health Technology Wales.

The FreeStyle Libre glucose monitoring device is a sensor worn under the skin to monitor blood sugar levels, enabling diabetes patients to manage their diseases more effectively and without the need for multiple finger prick tests throughout the day.

Patients fitted with the sensor are able to see their blood sugar levels by simply passing a scanner, provided in an app in a mobile phone or similar device, over the sensor.

HTW looked at data from more than a dozen randomised control trials and observational studies to assess the clinical and cost-effectiveness of flash glucose monitoring compared with the self-measuring of blood glucose (finger-pricking).  It concluded that despite being more expensive, flash glucose monitoring was more effective and should be made available to everyone with diabetes who needs insulin for treatment. Currently the FreeStyle Libre system is the only one that delivers this kind of monitoring.

According to Diabetes UK, Wales has the highest prevalence of diabetes in the UK. More than 200,000 people in Wales are now living with the condition (8% of the population aged 17 and over), with the numbers rising every year. Currently 10% of the NHS Wales budget is spent on treating diabetes and its complications. 

Professor Peter Groves, Chairman of HTW said:

“Health Technology Wales has an important role in identifying medical technologies that will improve the health and lives of people in Wales and at the same time represent good value for money for NHS Wales. The HTW appraisal of Freestyle Libre has concluded that this technology has the potential to do just that, and we hope that our guidance will ensure that patients with diabetes requiring insulin will have the opportunity to reap the benefits from easier access to this technology in the future.”

The news has been welcomed by Diabetes UK Cymru’s Policy and Public Affairs Manager Joshua James, who said:

“Flash glucose monitoring is an important tool that can help people to improve their quality of life, reduce hospital visits and gives patients more confidence in managing their condition. The outcome of the review is a step forward in helping people across Wales to access the right technology to help them live better, happier lives with all types of diabetes.”

The National Clinical Lead for Diabetes in Wales, consultant Julia Platts, described some of the benefits of the device for patients in Wales. “It will help to increase the time spent in the glucose target range which will help to reduce some complications of diabetes. It will also help to reduce hypoglycemia which is unpleasant and may be very frightening and help to increase peace of mind.” 

 Diabetes patients have also welcomed the recommendation that FreeStyle Libre glucose monitoring should be routinely used by the NHS in Wales.

Sarah Gibbs from Newport injects herself with insulin several times a day to keep her blood glucose levels under control. She is one of the minority of Welsh patients who have been able to access FreeStyle Libre on the NHS and described how it has changed her life.

“It’s so much faster, I can even scan my arm when I’m walking!  I can look at my levels over 24 hours and it’s so much easier to understand them. My glucose levels are so under control now. Without it, I’d be lost.”

According to surveys carried out by Diabetes UK Cymru, fewer than half of people with the condition in Wales have used FreeStyle Libre, which came onto the market in 2014. Wales has the lowest uptake of any nation in the UK.  This should change following HTW’s guidance which now puts in place a stronger recommendation for its use in the NHS than in any other part of the UK.