NHS funds handheld headache-busting device as part of Long Term Plan

A device that can zap away excruciating headaches is to receive NHS England funding from a scheme that helps to spread the use of world-leading technology across the health service.

Now the NHS will fund a handheld gadget that uses low-levels of electric current to disrupt pain signals and relieve the suffering of those who are having ‘cluster’ headaches, excruciating attacks of pain.

The NHS Long Term Plan puts cutting-edge treatments at the heart of people’s care, committing to introducing proven and affordable innovations as quickly as possible.

Cluster headaches are rare, but they’re more common in men and tend to start when a person is in their 30s or 40s.

The headaches generally begin quickly, with the pain being very severe and often described as a sharp, burning or piercing sensation on one side of the head. The condition is felt around the eye, temple and sometimes face. It tends to occur on the same side for each attack.

The attacks generally last between 15 minutes and three hours, and typically occur between one and eight times a day.

The NHS-funded device is placed on the neck where it stimulates the vagus nerve which can lead to a reduction of pain.

Around 66,000 people in the UK experience a cluster headache and the device holds out hope for the one in 20 who do not respond to traditional treatments such as prescription of triptans (painkillers), oxygen or anticonvulsants.

Under the NHS scheme patients could be prescribed the easy-to-use technology and carry it with them so that they can use it regularly to prevent cluster headaches or when they feel one coming on.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, said: “The NHS has long been at the forefront of driving innovation, and as we deliver our ambitious Long Term Plan, the NHS will continue to be a world leader in adopting and spreading life-changing innovations.

“Innovative technologies like this could not only alleviate painful symptoms but could empower patients to claim back their ordinary daily lives.”

The innovation is being funded as part of a scheme to fast track specific innovations into the NHS, which over the past three years has already benefitted over 300,000 patients.

Dr Sam Roberts, director of innovation and life sciences for NHS England, said: “This programme has been amazingly successful at getting new innovations to patients, with over 300,000 patients benefitting from previous innovations. This year we have selected some great proven innovations for support.

“We will build on this success with our commitments set out in the Long Term Plan, to support innovators and the NHS to remove barriers to uptake so patients can benefit faster.”

Susan Haydon, head of support services at The Migraine Trust, said: “Cluster headache is one of the most painful conditions that a person can experience. It is crucial that people who experience it receive effective treatment.

“It is therefore a very positive step that there is a new cluster headache treatment option available on the NHS.”

The NHS’ own innovation agencies – the 15 Academic Health Science Networks across England – will take direct responsibility for accelerating uptake locally.