A new app designed to treat insomnia will seek the involvement of community pharmacists, a digital health company has said.

The NHS will offer a new smartphone app – Sleepio – to insomniacs in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire from 10 October as an alternative to medicines to manage the condition. There will be a further rollout in south east England in 2019.

The company behind the app, Big Health – which is leading the project with Oxford Academic Health Science Network (Oxford AHSN) with the support of NHS England and NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) – will ‘seek to engage community pharmacies to increase insomnia awareness,’ it said.

Big Health hopes that Sleepio will help reduce the annual £72m the NHS spends on 12 million prescriptions for insomnia.


Engaging with pharmacies


A Big Health spokesperson told The Pharmacist last week (28 September) that the scheme will ‘engage with key groups including pharmacists through the local pharmaceutical committees’ (LPC), particularly those across Buckinghamshire, where the company’s data partner GP practices are based.

They said: ‘The Oxford AHSN will also engage with them through local prescriber forum meetings and is arranging an event – enabling attendees to receive continuing professional development (CPD) points – to make them aware of the issues around sleep and about the project.’


Innovative solution


The spokesperson argued that digital medicine is a ‘solution’ to address the prevalence of mental health issues, of which insomnia is a common symptom.

They added: ‘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.


How does the app 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 problems, as well as providing them with a toolkit and shared access with people experiencing the same disorders.