People awaiting NHS talking therapy to get AI chatbot while they wait

Published : Saturday, February 26, 2022, 9:38 pm
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An AI therapy chatbot called Wysa is about to revolutionise the way people access NHS mental health services. The £1m NHS trial aims to provide clinical evidence that digital health app, Wysa, can maintain, and even improve, mental health symptoms during the waiting period for traditional talking therapies.

Wysa is an AI-enabled chatbot for common mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression. It uses natural language understanding (NLU) to provide support through interactive conversation to give advice based on clinically-reviewed cognitive-behavioural techniques. Each Wysa response is tailored to the user’s needs at that moment.

The trial aims to provide clinical evidence that prescribing AI CBT at the point of referral reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also aims to provide clinical evidence that Wysa can accurately detect when people are experiencing more severe mental health difficulties and automatically identifies those in need of higher intensity or more urgent treatment.

The trial will help pave the way for Wysa’s integration into wider NHS mental health service adoption, where it can provide immediate help as well as ongoing mental health support beyond treatment.

Participants will be randomly selected from mental health waiting lists at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (, which provides all-age mental health and community services across north London and Milton Keynes, as an IAPT service initiative (Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies). Participants will be given access to Wysa and will monitor their levels of anxiety and depression using questionnaires provided through the app. The questionnaire results will be compared with a control group of people who are on the waiting list with no access to Wysa.

Dr Lucy Wilson-Shaw, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at CNWL, said: “We in Kensington and Westminster services can’t wait to see the impact that a CBT chatbot might have on patients while they wait for therapy. We’ve partnered with Wysa to test out if we can help more people faster and more effectively. We are always looking to find ways for people to be able to access the help they need as quickly as possible and to reduce any barriers and anxiety people feel about coming to a Talking Therapy service. Some people may find the anonymity of a chatbot reduces anxiety about starting therapy and we hope it will help people to start the work sooner and better prepare them for meeting with the Therapist and making the best use of their therapy sessions.”

Wysa provides a model that emphasises prevention and symptom management in addition to treatment. From cognitive-behavioural techniques (CBT) and meditation to breathing exercises, yoga and motivational interviewing, Wysa has an extensive library of on-demand resources that help patients manage their mental health.

Emma Selby, UK Clinical Lead at Wysa said: “This trial shows how the NHS is embracing innovative new technologies to take pressure off staff and give instant access to support as soon as patients need it to prevent their condition from deteriorating.”

“Our goal is to help people feel better. For some that involves streamlining the system so they can access the professional support they need, fast. But for others it’s about giving them the tools and techniques to build their own mental resilience at home, freeing up higher level support services for those who really need it.” Selby added.

- Senior hire to integrate Wysa into the NHS

Wysa has appointed Ross O’Brien as Managing Director for the UK and Europe. O’Brien brings more than 15 years of experience in the healthcare industry, mainly focusing on mental health and digital innovation within the NHS.

“I truly believe that Wysa has the potential to revolutionise the way patients access mental health support via the NHS,” said O’Brien. “By utilising emotionally-intelligent AI we can not only ease the burden on the NHS but give every patient in the country access to instant personal support that allows them to explore their own wellbeing.”

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