People across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire will be eligible for free access to Sleepio following an award of almost £1million that could spur its adoption across the NHS.

The backing from agency Innovate UK will fund research into the rollout of Sleepio, the online sleep improvement programme created by digital medicine company Big Health, in partnership with Oxford Academic Health Science Network (AHSN). Sleepio is one of the 37 innovations currently being supported by the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA).

From October 2018, anyone in the targeted areas 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 – fully automated, evidence-based behavioural medicine self-help programmes, easily accessible via app or web.

The 28-month project will evidence the best ways of enabling people to access digital medicine, including partnering with stakeholders such as GPs, pharmacies, libraries and local employers. It will develop a blueprint for wider uptake of digital medicine across the NHS in England in a bid to improve sleep health whilst reducing the current over-reliance on medication, which is used to treat the estimated 20% of working adults that suffer from chronic sleeplessness.

Last year, over 12 million prescriptions for insomnia were written, at a cost to the NHS of £72million – one prescription for every GP, every day of the year. In clinical trials, Sleepio has been shown to help over three-quarters of insomnia sufferers achieve normal sleep.

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.

Sleepio is a fully automated and scalable web and mobile programme, based on CBT, shown in clinical trials to help individuals 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.

Professor Colin Espie, Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer at Big Health 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.”

Oxford AHSN will work 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, Buckinghamshire 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 people’s lives.”

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).

More information about Sleepio and NIA Fellow Sophie Bostock is available here.