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Insomnia initiative could help thousands kick sleeping pills

sleeping man imagePeople living in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire will be eligible for free access to a clinically-proven digital programme which tackles insomnia following an award of almost £1 million that could spur its adoption across the NHS.

The Oxford Academic Health Science Network (Oxford AHSN) is supporting the rollout of Sleepio, the online sleep improvement programme created by digital medicine company Big Health. It is funded by Innovate UK through the Digital Health Technology Catalyst programme.

Oxford AHSN is working in partnership with Big Health to explore the best ways for people experiencing insomnia to access Sleepio. Working with GPs, and primary and mental health NHS staff, local employers, and third sector organisations, Oxford AHSN will explore how the NHS can expand provision of digital medicines like Sleepio.

Dr Michael Mulholland, a Bucks GP and Clinical Lead for this project, said: “In my role as a GP I see the impact of insomnia on people’s lives every day. Sleepio offers a real opportunity to transform lives for the better and to reduce reliance on sleeping tablets. This collaboration will explore the potential of digital innovations to improve lives.”

From October 2018 any adult in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire will be able to access Sleepio without needing a prescription or referral from their GP, saving valuable time for both patients and doctors.

This is the first NHS rollout of direct-access digital medicine – a fully automated, evidence-based self-help programme, easily accessible via app or web.

The project will develop a blueprint for wider uptake of digital medicine across the NHS in England in a bid to improve sleep and reduce reliance on medication which is used to treat the estimated one in five working adults who suffer from chronic sleeplessness.

Clinical guidelines recommend a psychological approach called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for insomnia. However, treatment is currently dominated by medication, which can have unpleasant or harmful side-effects.

Last year, over 12 million prescriptions for insomnia were written, at a cost to the NHS of £72m – one prescription for every GP, every day of the year.

Sleepio phone screen imageIn clinical trials, Sleepio has been shown to help over three-quarters of insomnia sufferers achieve normal sleep. It is a fully automated and scalable web and mobile programme, based on CBT, which has been shown to help people make the necessary changes to transform their sleep, mental health and productivity. Sleepio is clinically proven to help 76% of those with insomnia make the changes necessary to achieve healthy sleep levels. In psychological therapy settings, 68% of those with anxiety and depression move to recovery.

Prof Colin Espie, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at Big Health and Professor of Sleep Medicine at the University of Oxford, said: “This project is critical to demonstrate how digital medicine can offer better quality care to people experiencing insomnia, reduce reliance on medication and enable people to engage in effective self-care.”

Sleepio is one of the first digital health applications ever to be reviewed by NICE, and has been supported by the NHS Innovation Accelerator since 2015. Sleepio has been tested in six clinical trials, including the largest ever trial of a psychological intervention, significantly improving both sleep and mental health outcomes (Freeman et al. 2017).