Women wearing a virtual reality headset and joysticks in each hand

Deep-sea diving and drumming sessions: appeal funds staff wellbeing measures

Charity appeal funds virtual reality therapy, long COVID research, and digital solution to waiting list growth

NHS staff are embracing virtual reality (VR) technology to overcome anxiety, stress and burnout thanks to funding from the Royal Free Charity.

The charity has awarded £63,000 from a recent fundraising appeal to extend a VR therapy pilot project for Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust staff.

In pilot tests, staff have taken part in a range of immersive experiences using simulator headsets, including drumming sessions, beach walks and deep-sea diving. Initial feedback shows staff report feeling calmer, less anxious and more relaxed after taking part in a VR therapy session.

Jon Spiers, chief executive of the Royal Free Charity, said: “Thanks to the generosity of our local community and supporters, our recent Breaking Point fundraising appeal raised £700,000 to boost the Royal Free London’s recovery from the pandemic.

“We launched the appeal last winter in response to an array of competing challenges facing the trust. They included seasonal pressures, rising cases of long COVID, lengthening waiting lists for treatment and the risk of staff burnout.

“We had an amazing response to the appeal. As a result, we’re now funding a suite of projects to improve the experience of patients, speed up vital research into long COVID and bolster the wellbeing and resilience of our wonderful RFL workforce.”

Funding from the Breaking Point appeal has been allocated in three themed areas:


£261,846 has been awarded for research into long COVID. The research seeks to identify a unique biochemical profile or ‘signature’ for long COVID. Once detected, this ‘signature’ will enable clinicians to predict who is most at risk of developing long COVID, and how severe their symptoms are likely to be. In the long term, the analysis and findings could lead to the development of better targeted treatments which will help people to recover faster.

Patient experience

£45,694 has been awarded to fund a digital platform to speed up the pathway to elective surgery for patients. The platform will:

  • Provide all patients undergoing elective procedures a digital option for their pre-treatment screening. This will mean people can complete the necessary forms from the comfort of their home and will no longer need to make as many hospital visits.
  • Facilitate the increased use of remote consultations for low-risk surgery to offer patients greater choice. This will ensure there are more in-person slots available for those who have complex needs or would prefer a face-to-face consultation.
  • Provide patients with relevant information about their treatment in an easy-to-read electronic format prior to their consultation, reducing the delays in obtaining informed consent that lead to late-stage surgery cancellations.
  • Develop a single informed consent platform to capture and share patient information in a consistent and secure way. This will reduce reliance on slower paper-based systems and maximise efficiency.
  • Reduce late cancellations of operations to ensure as many theatre slots are filled as possible.

Staff wellbeing

£113,000 has been awarded to fund measures to boost staff wellbeing and resilience, including VR therapy and staff rest spaces.

  • The majority of the grant will be invested in VR headsets, so that they can be used either in a therapeutic setting or be brought to staff wherever they are working, making it much easier to access support.
  • Grant funding has been awarded towards the refurbishment costs of key areas, including wellbeing spaces for specific departments, and the creation of ‘wobble rooms’ where staff who have been emotionally affected by a traumatic incident can decompress alone or with a trusted colleague.

Mr Spiers added: “The success of the Breaking Point appeal is testament to the incredible power of community, and to the ambitious work we can deliver as the trust’s strategic partner. We’re immensely grateful to everyone who supported us, gave us their time, or amplified our voice in the course of the appeal.”