Research Participant Benefits from Charity Supported Study

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Francesca Brett, a Supported Housing Service Team Leader from Helston, was preparing for her wedding party and 30th birthday when she received the devastating diagnosis of Triple Positive Breast Cancer.

She felt scared, confused, nervous and uncertain about the treatment to come and overwhelmed by the prospect of losing her hair. She said “From the second that I was diagnosed, the wonderful NHS service and staff at the Royal Cornwall Hospital wrapped their arms around me and looked after me every step of the way. Not only was I was given the chance to save my hair during chemotherapy by using the ‘cold cap’ but I was also lucky enough to be given the opportunity to participate in the VR headset research study during treatment, in the hope that it would calm my nerves and take my mind off my surroundings.”

Image depicting a patient/candidate for research study at the royal cornwall hospital

The first round of chemotherapy was tough for Francesca and she found it hard to come back to the ward for the second round of treatment. This made Francesca the perfect candidate for a research study that aims to find out the effectiveness of using a virtual reality device for symptom control and wellbeing in oncology and palliative care patients. The device displays a range of local scenes that have been filmed to allow patients to ‘escape’ the hospital environment where they often feel isolated and trapped. Francesca’s nurse, Amy Byfield, made a call and within minutes a nurse arrived with the headset. “I felt so sick, I was shaking and crying but after the VR session – strolling around the Isles of Scilly and the Eden Project I was instantly calmed and didn’t feel any sickness or negative emotions. The nurse stayed with me the whole time and talked me through the headset and what to expect. I used the headset again on my fourth round because I felt very sick and anxious after failed cannulation attempts. Thankfully, I had the same results and was able to proceed with the treatment.”

The study was initially designed in response to the Coronavirus pandemic restrictions which particularly affected these patients. The trial was funded by both The Royal Cornwall Hospital Charity and the Cornwall Cancer Research Fund. Dr Niall Moon Clinical Fellow and Principal Investigator said “Both the Hospital Charity and Cornwall Cancer Research Fund have been invaluable for the success of the project. The support from the entire research team has been key to the project’s establishment and success. We are now approaching the final stages of study recruitment and have had positive feedback from both patients and staff about the Virtual Reality equipment.  

Image depicting a patient standing outside Treliske hospital Mermaid Centre

The project was first developed during the Coronavirus pandemic where Oncology and Palliative care patients were particularly affected by reduced hospital visiting and lockdowns. We have the ability with this equipment to provide personalised virtual reality escapes for patient who are physically unable to leave hospital.  

It’s great to be involved with research using new technologies that hopefully will have a powerful positive effect on patients experience and treatment. The core principle of this project has always been about patient experience and patient-centred research. We plan to continue to utilise Virtual Reality for both patient and staff wellbeing at RCHT hoping to expand its uses of the coming years. “

Francesca concluded “I strongly believe that using the VR headset helped me to overcome my nerves when it comes to surroundings, emotions and invasive situations as it helped me to relax, breathe and focus on something else. I’m approaching my last round of chemotherapy and not only do I have 95% of my hair but I no longer have my previous fears. When I do feel anxious, I am now able to take myself to other, happier places in my mind. The VR headset has helped me to achieve that.

I was impressed by the knowledge and the guidance by the Dr’s who deliver the VR. I felt very looked after and cared for during the experience. I would highly recommend the VR headset to others who have the same fears as I did and I hope that, in time this will be available to all patients who need it.”

For further information about the Royal Cornwall Hospital’s Charity Research Fund please contact

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