The i4i Mental Health Challenge Award: Immersive virtual reality to transform the lives of patients with psychosis
The National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) have funded our group to enable state-of-the-art psychological therapy to be delivered via virtual reality (VR) in the NHS, in a project that brings together a team of NHS trusts, universities, a mental health charity, the Royal College of Art, and a University of Oxford spin-out company.
'Our project will see one of the most exciting and powerful new technologies implemented in the NHS for the first time” said the project lead, Professor Daniel Freeman from Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry.
'Virtual reality treatment can help patients transform their lives. When people put on our headsets, a virtual coach takes them into computer-generated simulations of the situations they find troubling.
'The coach guides the patient through these scenarios, helping them practise techniques to overcome their difficulties. Patients often find it easier to do this work in the virtual world – and they enjoy using our VR applications – but the beauty is that the benefits transfer to the real world,' said Professor Freeman, who is also a clinical psychologist at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.
'Our new treatment is automated – the virtual coach leads the therapy – and it uses inexpensive VR kit, so it has the potential for widespread use in the NHS. We’re inspired by the opportunity VR provides to increase dramatically the number of people who can access the most effective psychological therapies.'
'Realising this ambition will require much work, but our amazing team of patients, NHS staff, researchers, and designers has all the capabilities to achieve it. Over the next three years this major investment should lead to real and positive change in services for patients.'
There are three main stages to the project: a design phase to ensure the VR treatment is simple to use, engaging, and right for patient needs; a large multi-centre clinical trial in NHS trusts across the country, to demonstrate the benefits of the VR treatment; and making a roadmap to roll out the treatment across the NHS.