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NHS in Thames Valley to tackle sleeping pills epidemic with digital medicine

Mike Radocchia 03.15.2018
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People across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire will be eligible for free access to a clinically-proven digital programme for tackling insomnia, following an award of almost £1m 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 (Oxford AHSN).

Last year, over 12 million prescriptions for insomnia were written, at a cost to the NHS of £72m - 1 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.

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.

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.

Prof 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).


Innovate UK

Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency. It works with people, companies and partner organisations to find and drive the science and technology innovations that will grow the UK economy. For further information visit

About Big Health

Big Health was co­-founded in 2010 by former insomnia sufferer Peter Hames and world renowned sleep expert Professor Colin Espie. As the world’s first digital medicine company, Big Health creates automated evidence­-based behavioural programs using technology, thereby making them accessible by a wider audience. Big Health’s first product, Sleepio, is a digital sleep improvement program featuring Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques. CBT helps re-establish a reliable sleep pattern from night to night and to overcome the problem of the racing mind that keeps people with insomnia awake. Sleepio has been clinically proven in 6 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to help overcome insomnia and comorbid anxiety and depression. The company is based in London and San Francisco. For more information on Big Health and Sleepio please visit

About Oxford AHSN

The Oxford Academic Health Science Network is a partnership of NHS providers, commissioners, universities and life science companies working together to improve health and prosperity in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire. 


The 28 month Digital Catalyst project is worth £1m. The award from Innovate UK makes up £820k of this figure, with Big Health co-funding the project as an industry partner. 


Annual prescriptions for insomnia in the UK includes 9 million on hypnotics prescriptions, plus an estimated 3 million low dose sedative antidepressant prescriptions for sleep problems.


Topics: Digital medicine, Sleep, insomnia