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New insomnia app could help the NHS save millions


By Léa Legraien
Reporter
2 October 2018

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A new app designed to treat insomnia could help the NHS save millions, a digital health company has announced.

The NHS will offer a new smartphone app – Sleepio – to insomniacs in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire from 10 October, as an alternative to medication. The scheme will be further rolled out across the South East in 2019.

The company behind the app, Big Health, is leading the project with Oxford Academic Health Science Network, with the support of NHS England and NHS Innovation Accelerator. Big Health hopes that Sleepio will reduce the annual £72m the NHS spends on the 12 million prescriptions for insomnia.

Innovative solution

A Big Health spokesperson told Healthcare Leader that digital medicine is a ‘solution’ to address the prevalence of mental health issues in the country, of which insomnia is a common symptom.

They said: ‘The purpose [of Sleepio] is to find the best way of providing people who have insomnia, or persistent poor sleep issues, with an alternative to taking sleeping pills.

‘Treatment is dominated by sleeping medication. Research has consistently demonstrated that this medication is not effective in the long-term, may result in harmful effects and is not what most patients want.

‘Clinical guidelines recommend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for chronic insomnia, yet [it] is not easily accessible in the NHS.’

How does it work?

According to Big Health chief medical officer and professor of sleep medicine at Oxford University Colin Espie, Sleepio is based on CBT.

The six-week programme includes web-based personalised sessions, where a virtual expert help patients overcome their sleeping problem, as well as providing them with a toolkit and shared access to people experiencing the same disorder.

Tackling insomnia at scale

Research conducted by insurance company Aviva last year showed that a third (31%) of UK adults suffer from insomnia at some stage.

The Big Health spokesperson said that the initial roll-out in the South East will engage with stakeholders such as GPs, pharmacies and local employers to find the ‘best way to make Sleepio accessible to all’.

They added: ‘Once the most successful approach is identified, we will develop an implementation toolkit that can be used more widely.

‘We hope this will provide a workable methodology for implementing digital self-care that may be adapted to other common mental health problems.’

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