Severe headache sufferers will be given a gadget rather than pills to alleviate the pain, the head of NHS England announced on Wednesday.

Cluster headaches, which are often mistaken for migraines, are one of the most debilitating conditions known to medical science, with women often describing the pain as worse than childbirth.

Now sufferers will be offered a hand-held device that delivers mild electrical stimulation to the vagus nerve to block the pain signals that cause the headaches.

The gadget, known as gammaCore, can also treat migraines, but is being rolled out initially for cluster headaches.

According to The Migraine Trust, cluster headaches affect between 1 and 2 per cent of the population, meaning up to 110,000 adults in Britain are at risk.

It is one of a raft of new treatments, tests and procedures announced by Sir Simon Stephens at the Reform health conference in London on Wednesday. 

As part of the new innovations pregnant women will receive a new pre-eclampsia test to rule out the condition while those suspected of having a heart attack will get a cutting-edge blood test which diagnoses an attack within three hours – nine hours faster than the current rate.

NHS England will also fund 10 other new tests including a computer programme that creates a digital 3D model of the heart avoiding the need for invasive exploratory procedures.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “From improving care for pregnant women to using digital modelling to assess heart conditions and new tests to prevent unnecessary hospitalisations for suspected heart attacks, the NHS is taking action to ensure patients have access to the very best modern technologies.

“It's heartening to see the NHS grasping with both hands these rapidly advancing medical innovations.”

Plans to speed up the uptake of proven, cutting-edge treatments is being overseen by the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC).

Lord Darzi, chair of the Accelerated Access Collaborative, said: “This is a vital step in helping patients receive rapid access to the best, proven innovations being developed in our world-class health system.”

It is now the third year of the drive to identify and fast track specific innovations into the NHS, which has already benefited more than 300,000 patients across the NHS. The new innovations will help an extra 400,000.

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