Thousands of patients at risk of type 2 diabetes are to receive digital support to help prevent them developing the condition as part of an expansion of these schemes on England’s NHS.

NHS England said that pilot schemes showed that 24/7 access to online advice significantly boosted the numbers taking up the flagship Diabetes Prevention Programme (DPP).

In a statement NHS England also cited evidence showing that using digital tools opened up the prevention programme to a wider group of patients.

There is a growing trend for healthcare providers to use digital tools to help manage diabetes – in the US pharma companies such as Eli Lilly have joined with digital service providers to offer diabetes services that can be used alongside drugs to manage blood sugar levels, for instance.

But in the UK, where the majority of healthcare is provided by the taxpayer-funded NHS, the digital health services are being integrated into the public health system.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has made increased use of digital services a priority under his long-term plan for the NHS.

The pilot schemes showed that 68% of people referred to digital services took part compared with around half of those offered face-to-face support.

In a statement NHS England said that up to a fifth of places on NHS England’s programme, around 40,000 a year, will be delivered digitally.

People at risk of developing type 2 disease who cannot make face-to-face support sessions will be first to benefit from the expansion starting this month.

Those on the digital service will receive wearable tech that monitors levels of exercises, including apps allowing users to access health coaches and educational content.

There are also online peer support groups that can set and monitor goals electronically.

Trials of the digital programme involving more than 5,000 people found more than two-thirds of those using digital support were aged under 65.

The average age of digital participants was 58, lower than the age of those using face-to-face interventions.

In the digital registration group 16% were aged between 18-44 compared with 7% of the same age group who registered for face-to-face support.

The NHS will also trial very low calorie diets that can reverse type 2 diabetes.

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