Virtual reality

World-first virtual reality training for perinatal mental health launches in England

NHS patients are set to benefit from a better quality of care as Health Education England (HEE) launch a new virtual-reality-enabled training programme for perinatal mental health.

The ground-breaking innovation comes in the form of a patient avatar that trainees can use to hone their skills when interacting with people presenting with perinatal mental health issues.

Affecting between 10-20% of people giving birth in the UK, perinatal mental health problems rely on health professionals having the ability to properly identify the severity of a patient’s condition and subsequently take the appropriate actions.

Opportunities to develop the skills necessary to do this in a secure learning environment are often few and far between however, which has ultimately led to the creation of Stacey, a virtual patient that allows trainees to master their skills before going into an actual clinical setting.

“Learning in this immersive way can prepare our future workforce to provide the best possible care for patients,” Health Secretary Steve Barclay said on the innovation.

A team from the University of Leeds evaluated the programme and found that, of the more-than 100 people participating, nearly four in five (79%) preferred the virtual reality training over the standard practices.

The group testing the technology comprised of GPs, mental health nurses and students with aspirations of becoming either doctors or clinical psychologists.

Other results included the participants eliciting increased cognitive and emotional comprehension after interacting with Stacey, GPs reporting lower anxiety around consultations and nursing students feeling more empowered to continue their careers in perinatal care.

HEE’s National Clinical Lead for Mental Health, Rebecca Burgess-Dawson, said: “The potential impact that she has on perinatal mental health training is enormous and she will have a real benefit for learners in gaining the practice and skills they need for future patients they treat.”

To accrue more data, other university students will now be invited to test the technology as well.

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NHE May/June 2024

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