Pioneering £4m project to make virtual reality treatment available across the NHS

A North East Mental Health Trust has been chosen to run a virtual reality study.

Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust (NTW), the third highest performing mental health Trust in the country for research activity, have been chosen to take part in a ground breaking study for people with psychosis. The study will use immersive virtual reality to treat psychosis, and is part of a £4 million National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) project to make virtual reality treatments available in NHS mental health services.

The project brings together a team of NHS Trusts, universities, a mental health charity, the Royal College of Art and a University of Oxford tech start-up, and the study starts recruiting in June 2019.

Many people with psychosis find social situations difficult and will withdraw from everyday activities as a result leading to isolation and lack of activity which can lead to physical health problems and deterioration in their mental health.

The Virtual Reality (VR) therapy study, led by Professor Daniel Freeman of Oxford University and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, involves wearing a headset and interacting with computer generated people whilst a virtual coach guides the user to notice and challenge their thoughts, and to help change their feelings and responses in social situations.

The cutting edge Virtual Reality (VR) technology enables people to practise skills in a computer-simulated world to reduce problems in real life. This innovative approach in turn reduces anxiety and mistrust of other people and improves engagement in everyday activities.

This technology could radically improve treatment for people with psychosis. At present there is limited access to psychological therapies and because the virtual reality treatment is automated, many more people may benefit from effective psychological treatment which will hopefully bring meaningful benefits and help people engage more in activities they enjoy. The cost of VR therapy is much lower than standard therapies so the potential to cut overall treatment costs whilst improving health and wellbeing is a big incentive.

Dr Robert DudleyLeading the study on behalf of NTW

About NIHR

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): improving the health and wealth of the nation through research.

Established by the Department of Health and Social Care, the NIHR:
• funds high quality research to improve health
• trains and supports health researchers
• provides world-class research facilities
• works with the life sciences industry and charities to benefit all
• involves patients and the public at every step

For further information, visit the NIHR website www.nihr.ac.uk