Immersive Wellbeing for NHS Staff during COVID-19Escaping the busy shift for some virtual time out

Setting up a therapeutic VR station within a staff Wellbeing hub had a positive impact on staff during COVID-19

Mental health and well being of patients and healthcare workers is a key priority for the Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust (TSDFT). At the Immersive VR Lab we have always focused on providing interventions for relaxation, anxiety and pain distraction and stress reduction. Torbay hospital is based in Devon and surrounded by picturesque locations like the local beaches and the moors. We have incorporated 360-degree nature films shot at these beautiful locations and made them available for use in VR. Along with the content that has been produced in-house, we are currently working with Professor Bob Stone from Birmingham University to develop newer mental health and well being VR experiences. Professor Stone has donated the Sir David Attenborough 360-degree VR experience that allows viewers to experience changing landscapes while hearing a relaxing narration by Sir David Attenborough. We have received extremely positive feedback from users after having experienced this VR experience.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted mental health issues for healthcare workers and patients. Dealing with uncertainties and getting used to the new normal is exhausting and stressful for everybody. We believe that immersive VR or even 360-degree video interventions would provide beneficial assistance to staff and patients during this time. We made VR headsets readily available for TSDFT staff in the staff well-being room. Initially the uptake was extremely low as staff were busy but this has changed now. Over the last few months we have been practicing a strict VR hygiene protocol that has been signed off by the local Infection Control department at our trust. All staff responsible for managing the well-being room and VR headsets have been trained in infection control. The TSDFT well-being room is equipped with donated massage chairs, paired with the relaxing VR 360-degree experiences makes for a good mental escape. It allows staff some moments of relaxation and meditation, followed with some reflection time.

We are very keen to use VR for mental health and well-being to help patients. VR experiences like the Sir David Attenborough experience could be used within care home settings. Immersive VR experiences could also be used to help patients deal with COVID-ICU related PTSD or within isolation wards when patients are feeling lonely and isolated from their families. However, we are still learning about the SARS-COV-2 virus transmission. To reduce formation of potential clusters within the hospital, we limit use of VR to the well-being room. Post 2020 we plan on using the headsets with low risk patients.

Currently we have a library of 360-degree content filmed by our production team. If you would like access to these immersive experiences and think they may be beneficial for your hospital or care home, please get in touch with us.

Author: Payal Ghatnekar