Doctors and nurses in southern England are piloting a VR training system to help improve the care of diabetes patients.

The headset technology, developed by Oxford Medical Simulation, allows NHS clinicians in Southampton and Portsmouth to manage medical emergencies in a digital environment.

It will help staff recognise potentially life-threatening situations, such as seeing patients with extremely high or low blood sugar levels. It scores the actions they take to support learning.

The project is led by Dr Partha Kar, of Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust. Clinicians including Dr Mayank Patel, a consultant diabetologist at University Hospital Southampton, are also helping. Pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk are funding the trial.

Around 20% of all inpatients at any one time in a UK hospital have diabetes. Currently, one in 25 with type 1 diabetes nationally develop a dangerous condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) at hospital.

VR training system

DKA can develop if the body starts to run short of insulin, such as during the stress of other medical problems, causing a build up of harmful substances in the blood known as ketones.

“Diabetes emergency situations can escalate quickly and sometimes be difficult for non-specialists doctors and nurses to recognise," said Dr Patel.

"Ensuring clinicians are trained effectively to spot potential and manage confirmed diabetes in emergency situations promptly is vital. This immersive digital environment is an innovative and engaging way to do that."

Ten doctors have trialled the system so far and all reported feeling more confident about recognising the signs, said Patel. Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth will trial the kit next. There are plans for further roll-outs nationwide throughout 2019 if successful.

"Embracing technology is at the heart of the NHS long term plan," said Dr Kar, who is NHS England’s associate national clinical director for diabetes.

"Training doctors using virtual reality is another example of modernising the NHS to help improve care for patients with diabetes."