A new project is looking to offer mental health patients in the UK an innovative psychological therapy on the National Health Service (NHS).
The project brings together the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), the NHS, universities, as well as charities and companies. NIHR has awarded the project £4 million to use VR to help guide patients safely through situations that they find troubling.
The project will be the first time that the technology has been utilised by the NHS.
The treatment involves the use of a virtual coach, that guides the headset wearing user through a number of computer-generated simulations designed to help them practice techniques that help them overcome their difficulties. Patients react better in a virtual environment, as the anxiety of practicing in the real world is removed.
The treatment is completely automated with the virtual coach leading the therapy sessions, meaning that the number of people that can access the therapy.
The project will go through three main stages.
The first stage involves design to make sure that the treatment is simple to use, engaging and actually meets the needs of the patients that will be using it. The second stage will involve a large-scale clinical trial in multiple NHS trusts across the country.
The final stage will be a full rollout of the service.
The $4 million comes as the prize of a winner-takes-all competition in which the NIHR looked to reward people to come up with innovative technological solutions to help people with mental health problems.