Headache busting balloons among pioneering treatments rolled out on NHS

A tiny balloon to treat chronic sinus infection and steam bursts to shrink an enlarged prostate are among a range of new treatments being rolled out by the NHS from next week.

Every hospital in England will be able to access the seven new gadgets, which also include a portable chest drainage device to help patients recover more quickly from heart and lung problems and an automated blood cell replacement system to treat people with sickle cell disease.

Announcing the innovations today, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said they will ensure tens of thousands of patients can be treated for often debilitating conditions faster, while also saving time for staff and helping address covid-19 backlogs.

XprESS, the novel treatment for chronic sinusitis, works by inflating a tiny balloon inside the patient’s nose, clearing blockages and relieving headaches and pain.

It is recommended when surgery fails to clear the blockages and can be done in a ‘dental-style’ appointment with people heading home just a couple of hours after arriving at hospital.

Chronic sinusitis is a swelling of sinuses which lasts for more than 12 weeks and affects around 110,000 people in England and symptoms include pain, a blocked nose, reduced sense of smell and headaches.

The NHS will also be rolling out a new package of measures to treat an enlarged prostate including bursts of steam that can shrink the prostate and avoid the need for long, complicated surgery as well as a laser treatment, which can be carried out in a day without the need for patients to stay overnight.

An enlarged prostate is common in men over 50, affecting nearly four million each year in England – it can place pressure on the bladder and urethra often causing a frequent need to urinate or difficulties urinating, which can become severe and make everyday activities difficult to manage.

The technologies, supported through the MedTech Funding Mandate, will save the NHS in England up to £57.5 million per year, compared to the cost of more traditional procedures.

Announcing the innovations at the NHS England board meeting, NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “The NHS has always been at the forefront of medical innovations and while many of these gadgets may be small, they will make a huge difference to the lives of tens of thousands of patients every year as well as freeing up time for NHS staff.

“From a tiny balloon that can go up your nose to get rid of sinus pain to a burst of steam that can shrink an enlarged prostate – these cutting-edge devices show how the NHS is embracing the latest lifechanging technology and rolling it out at speed for patients across the country.

“NHS staff are working hard to address COVID backlogs, and technology can really help us make inroads on the road to recovery.”

The innovations will be adopted across the NHS from the beginning of April as part of the MedTech Funding Mandate policy – an NHS Long Term Plan commitment which supports the implementation of proven medical devices, diagnostics and digital products.

The full list of treatments which have been approved for use if clinically appropriate for patients include:

  • XprESS, a novel treatment for blocked sinuses which works by inflating a tiny balloon inside the patient’s nose, clearing blockages and relieving headaches and pain.
  • Thopaz+, a portable digital chest drainage device to help patients recover more quickly from heart and lung problems using the latest digital technology to provide an accurate measure of a patient’s progress.
  • Spectra Optia is a system that helps sickle-cell patients by automatically replacing disease-affected red blood cells with healthy ones from a donor.
  • PLASMA, a new way of treating enlarged prostate, where an electrical current passed through a surgical tool is used to cut out tissue while sealing the wound at the same time, reducing bleeding during surgery.
  • Rezum is a prostate treatment which avoids the need for longer, more complicated surgery by using bursts of steam to shrink an enlarged prostate.
  • Urolift is a much less invasive treatment that relieves the symptoms of an enlarged prostate by using small, permanent implants to stop the gland blocking the flow of urine.
  • GreenLight laser treatments are also used for treating prostate issues and can be carried out in a day without the need for patients to stay overnight.

John Ford, 69, found his prostate problems meant he’d lost control of his bladder. It closed down his life, making him scared to go very far from home, until he was offered Rezum steam treatment at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

John said: “I was becoming anti-social – we turned down lots of invitations to go to things. In the end, I opted for this procedure – it was minimally invasive, with no side effects, and extraordinarily quick.

“My quality of life was pretty poor but now it’s changed tremendously.”

Matt Whitty, Chief Executive of Accelerated Access Collaborative and Director of Innovation, Research and Life Sciences at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said: “These seven medical technologies and the four already supported by the policy are improving and saving lives.

“Through research and innovation, we can improve patient outcomes and by supporting patients and providers to have equal access to transformative innovations and technologies and by removing barriers to adoption we will reduce health inequalities and improve equity of access for all, and in particular those patients in disproportionately affected groups.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “As the country moves out of the pandemic, we have been clear that it cannot be business as usual. Offering patients innovative treatments like these is a key part of our strategy in tackling the COVID backlog.

“By supporting the NHS to harness new technology and adopt more efficient ways of working – from community diagnostic hubs to surgical hubs – we can relieve pressure on staff and make sure thousands of patients get the help they need more quickly”.

The NHS Long Term Plan committed to patients benefitting from faster adoption of cutting-edge technology and treatments.

Since the NHS Long Term Plan was published, NHS England has supported the increased use of the headache-busting device GammaCore, the 3D heart imaging technology HeartFlow, SecurAcath and a test to rule out preeclampsia.