Women in labour using VR headsets to distract them from the pain

Women going through labour are being given virtual reality headsets to distract them from the pain as part of an innovative new trial.

WalesOnline reports the University Hospital of Wales (UHW) in Cardiff is testing the equipment on mums to be to see if it can be used as a relaxation tool alongside, or instead of, traditional methods of pain relief.

The headsets, which are made by Cardiff based developers Rescape and cost between £3,000 and £4,000 each to loan for a year, allow women to choose from six different experiences.

They can transport them to serene underwater settings, picturesque sandy beaches, or amongst wildlife with accompanying commentary from David Attenborough.

Midwife Suzanne Hardacre said “We have never done anything like this in maternity services before.

“This is a really exciting and innovative project, bringing another dimension to the care we can give to women.

“It has the ability to take women to a place where they can be distracted from their early labour pain.”

However, she admitted virtual reality was not suitable for every woman coming through the doors of the maternity unit.

She said “Some women who suffer with significant pain find that the immersion is a little too much of a distraction.

“Understandably, there are women who want to be present and in the moment.

“But offering another, non-pharmaceutical aspect of pain relief can only be seen as a positive.”

Before the experience begins, women are asked to rate their pain and anxiety levels from one to ten. They are then asked to record them again after using the headset.

While this trial is focusing on those in the early stages of labour, Suzanne Hardacre said there is scope to widen the use of this technology to other patients.

She said “Potentially this could be used on women who have had traumatic experiences in previous births.

“The VR could allow them to go through a ‘virtual tour’ of the whole process again in a more positive way and allow them to overcome their anxieties of the labour ward.”

UHW, Wales’ largest hospital, deals with around five thousand six hundred births every year, and is the first in the UK to trial this technology on pregnant women.

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said it will arrange a feedback session in the near future to gauge the responses of the first new mums to trial the headsets.

Glenn Hapgood, Co-founder of Rescape, said the devices are also being used in the paediatric emergency unit at UHW, on cystic fibrosis patients in University Hospital Llandough, and on scoliosis patients.

He said “Out of the 1,300 patients who had gone through it, there has been a 50% pain relief reduction – and there have been no adverse reactions which is great.

“The possibilities with this technology are endless, but the challenge for us is to change the mindsets of people who work in health and social care whose go-to option is often medication.”

He said virtual reality is slowly but surely moving out of the gaming and into therapies.

He said “A hospital stay is never an enjoyable one. So even if you look at it from a therapy point of view, just taking people away from the uncomfortable environment they’re in – it’s a very easy solution to have.”

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