What is an insulin pump?
An insulin pump is a small electronic device that releases the regular insulin your body needs through the day and night — so you don’t need to do insulin injections.
This can help you keep your blood sugar levels in your target range — but you’ll need to have it attached to your body most of the time for it to work properly.
And you’ll still need to keep a back-up diabetes kit so you can do insulin injections if needed.
Pumps are generally only offered on the NHS to some children and adults with type 1 diabetes.
Check the latest guidelines on who should be offered a free pump.
Whatever type of diabetes you have, if you use insulin and are interested in using an insulin pump, talk to your healthcare team. They can help you decide if a pump might suit you and in some cases offer advice on different types of pumps.
Type of insulin
You only need one type of insulin known as fast-acting insulin for your insulin pump.
You usually need to set up the pump, in blocks of time, to release small amounts of insulin all the time – which does the job of background or basal insulin. Your healthcare team can help you set the insulin rates based on your needs. It can be changed, depending on things like how active you’re being.
You’ll need to tell the pump what bolus dose you want when you eat or to give yourself a correction dose if your blood sugar goes too high. Most pumps have bolus calculators to help you work out the right amount of insulin you’ll need based on what you’re eating. You punch in how many carbs you’re going to be eating and what your blood sugar level is and it does the maths for you.
Types of insulin pump
There are two types of insulin pump:
Your healthcare team will talk with you about the pump they think will work best for you, or which one you can get on the NHS if you are eligible.
Both are attached to your body by a tiny tube called a cannula, which goes just under your skin. You’ll need to learn how to change the cannula (or the patch pump) yourself, which eventually becomes really easy.
You need to change your cannula or patch pump every two or three days and make sure you move to a different place every time you change it. This is really important because you can develop lipohypertrophy, which is where your body forms hard lumps that stop insulin working properly. You should also change sites to stop itching and rashes that form if you stick with the same site for too long.
A tethered pump is attached to your body by another small tube that connects to your cannula.
The pump itself usually has all the controls on it and can be carried on your belt, in a pocket, or in a body band. You can wear it under your clothes if you don’t want it to be on show.
Tethered pumps can be different in things like colour, screen size and some have extra features like Bluetooth remotes.
See the different types of tethered pumps available on the NHS which can also be bought.
You attach patch pumps directly on to your body where you’ve chosen to place your cannula. People tend to put them on their legs, arms or stomachs.
Patch pumps have no extra tubing, which means the pump sits directly on your skin and it works by using a remote.
Unlike a tethered pump, patch pumps are disposable. You’ll need to change the whole device when the pump alerts you, not just the infusion set and location.
See the different types of patch insulin pumps available on the NHS which can also be bought.
If you pay for a pump yourself, they cost around £2000 to £3000 and should last between 4 to 8 years. This is a lot of money, and is a big commitment.
You'll also have to buy other things that make the pump work, like your cannulas and tubing, batteries, dressings for the skin, adhesives and alcohol wipes for skin preparation if you prefer it to soap and water. This could cost around £1500 or more extra a year. You don't have to pay for your prescription insulin which you get free.
These are the pumps used by the NHS, which are also available to buy from the manufacturer if you aren’t eligible for one and are in a position to self-fund. If you are buying a pump, do have a chat with your healthcare team first.
Tandem t slim x2 insulin pump (Air Liquide Healthcare Ltd)
MiniMed 640G Insulin Pump – (Medtronic Ltd)
MiniMed 780G Insulin Pump - (Medtronic Ltd)
Kaleido Starter Kit UK - (ViCentra Ltd)
mylife YpsoPump - (Ypsomed)
Omnipad DASH – (Insulet International Ltd)
A8 TouchCare Nano Patch pump (Medrum Ltd)
Equil Patch Insulin Pump System Kit - Wordlink Resources Ltd
If you want a closed loop system (where your CGM talks to your insulin pump), you’ll need a ‘looping’ or integrated pump.
Diabetes technology isn’t right for everyone. Here we’ll take you through the pros and cons of having an insulin pump, so you’ve got all the information you need to make your own decision.
“The pump suits me well and gives me a greater level of flexibility over what I can eat and drink”
Advantages of insulin pumps
Disadvantages of insulin pumps
Blood sugar levels more often in your target range. Most people often have fewer highs and lows.
You'll need to have your pump attached to you all the time. Only take it off for small breaks, like when you're swimming or showering.
You won't have to inject as often.
The infusion set (tubing) can sometimes get blocked, so you might need to change it at short notice.
You can tailor your insulin more easily before, during and after exercise.
You'll need to take a lot of time to learn about your pump, especially when you first get it.
You'll have more flexibility in what, when and how much you eat.
There's always a small risk of infection from the cannula.
Better accuracy when you're bringing down high sugar levels.
You’ll still need to inject sometimes.
Help and support with your insulin pump
You should get pump training and ongoing support from your diabetes healthcare team.
Pump manufacturers also give support if you need help with the technology or if it breaks, and most have helplines you can call if you’re struggling.
We have more information about insulin pumps and other diabetes tech on our forum – join the conversation.