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By using virtual reality (VR) technology, Lancashire-based St Catherine’s Hospice has helped a patient experience the sights and sounds he loves from his hospice bed.

58-year-old Phil Morris, who enjoyed snorkelling before he became ill, has been able to experience the sights and sounds of the sea again through the use of VR technology.

Acting as a diversional therapy for patients, the VR equipment allows patients to enjoy different experiences from around the world during their time at the hospice.

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St Catherine’s has signed up to the DR:VR programme – The Virtual Reality Distraction Therapy Solution –  for a one year trial to assess the impact it has on reducing its patients’ pain, stress and anxiety, as well as how it offers people a distraction from their illness.

Phil was the first patient at the hospice to experience the new technology, who chose an underwater experience after being a keen snorkeller for years.

He suffers from Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), a rare, incurable and degenerative disease that affects his nervous system, leading to mobility and communication difficulties.

The virtual reality film, which is watched through VR goggles, took him under the sea where he could see a variety of fish and marine mammals, including whale sharks.

Phil’s wife Jeanette told the Lancashire Post: “Phil has actually been swimming with whale sharks while on holiday in Mexico so when I overheard that on the commentary I thought it was wonderful. To see them again brought back some very happy memories.

“He was a really keen snorkeller in the past – he used to be gone for hours. He’s been snorkelling in Cyprus, Spain, lots of different places – and now he’s experienced something similar from right here in Lostock Hall.”

Other VR experiences available for the patients include cities across the world, space, adventure, wildlife, and a specific film designed to aid relaxation.

The kit also features a special camera which will allow the hospice to create 360 degree films of events, with the aim that patients who are not able to join in with special celebrations, such as weddings or birthdays, will be able to watch a more realistic film of the highlights later through the VR googles.

Jeanette added: “We’ve spent a lot of time in hospital recently and it’s hard when you’re starting at the same four walls for long periods of time – so any kind of distraction is amazing.

“It’s different here at St Catherine’s, because there’s the lovely grounds to look out on, but having the opportunity to experience something so different is fantastic, particularly as it’s something that Phil used to enjoy so much.”

Jimmy Brash, Director of Care at St Catherine’s, said: “Our focus at St Catherine’s is on helping patients to have the best possible quality of life – we work in many different ways to achieve this, recognising that every person and their circumstances are different.

“Diversional or distraction therapies can help with this – taking people away, if only for a short time, from their present situation and the symptoms or worries they might be experiencing. It might be that someone dreads having blood taken and we can use VR to distract them while it is being carried out, or it might be that someone is particularly stressed or anxious and they would benefit from the relaxation film.

“Initial data from the DR:VR programme has found a 50 per cent reduction in pain and a 56 per cent reduction in anxiety when asking a patient before and after undergoing their virtual reality experience. We’re keen to add to this data and see if we find similar trends here at St Catherine’s.”

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