A small, portable device that can zap away excruciating headaches is now available to anyone who needs it on the NHS. The gadget is held against the neck and delivers a low-level electric current to block pain signals, relieving pain from people suffering from ‘cluster’ headaches.
NHS England is expanding the use of the non-invasive gammaCore (electroCore) vagus nerve stimulator, after successful trials held over the last two years. The NHS Long Term Plan set committed to using the latest treatments and therapies to improve patient care. It is self-administered by the person or their carer. After applying conductive gel, gammaCore is held against the neck (over the cervical branch of the vagus nerve) and delivers a small electric current for about 2 minutes. This stimulation should be repeated 3 times. The device is small and portable.
Around 11,000 people are set to benefit from the device when they have the debilitating headaches.
NHS medical director Stephen Powis said: “While they may be small, these devices will make a huge difference to people who suffer from these debilitating headaches – relieving painful symptoms and allow people to go about their daily lives as normal.
“The NHS Long Term Plan committed to making cutting edge treatments and technology available to save and improve lives.“ This is the latest example of the NHS testing the latest tech and rolling it out at speed for patients across the country.”
Cluster headaches begin quickly and are often described as a sharp, burning or piercing sensation on one side of the head with attacks lasting between 15 minutes and three hours and occurring up to eight times a day. Patients can use the device regularly to prevent cluster headaches or when they feel one starting to come on. While rare, the debilitating condition is more common in men and tend to start when they are in their 30s or 40s.
Clinicians now have another treatment option for patients, particularly for those who have not had success with other treatments, including triptan – painkillers used to ease migraines and severe headaches. The new technology is being made available, as part of the new Medtech Funding Mandate policy, which came into effect in April 2021, allowing patients to benefit from fast tracked innovations from the NHS.
About one to two people in every 1,000 are affected by the rare type of headache and around one in 20 do not respond to traditional methods, including painkillers or oxygen. Matthew Whitty, director of innovation and life sciences for NHS England, said: “Despite the pandemic, we remain committed to delivering on the ambitious commitments set out in the Long Term Plan to support the latest innovations and allow patients to utilise them across the country, as quickly as possible.
“The GammaCore device will provide life-changing benefits for thousands of people and it is just one of a number of technologies that are being mandated by the NHS.”