A GROUND-BREAKING mental health treatment will be pioneered in Oxford as part of a £4m project.

The National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) yesterday awarded the multi-million pound grant to enable state-of-the-art therapy for mental health issues to be delivered via virtual reality in the NHS.

The project brings together a team of NHS trusts, universities, a mental health charity, the Royal College of Art, and a Oxford University spinout company.

Project lead, Professor Daniel Freeman from Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry, said: “Our project will see one of the most exciting and powerful new technologies implemented in the NHS for the first time.

“Virtual reality treatment can help patients transform their lives. When people put on our headsets, a virtual coach takes them into computer-generated simulations of the situations they find troubling.

“The coach guides the patient through these scenarios, helping them practise techniques to overcome their difficulties.

"Patients often find it easier to do this work in the virtual world – and they enjoy using our VR applications – but the beauty is that the benefits transfer to the real world."

Over the next three years the virtual reality treatment will be designed with input from those with mental health problems to ensure it is simple to use, engaging, and right for patient needs.

A large multi-centre clinical trial in NHS trusts across the country will then take place before it is rolled out across the country.

The award comes after a winner-takes-all competition in which the NIHR challenged research teams across the nation to come up with innovative technological solutions to help people with mental health problems.