Virtual reality (VR) headsets are being worn for the first time by patients at St George’s Hospital to change the way they experience anxiety during wide-awake surgery.

The headsets, funded by St George’s Hospital Charity, are being worn by patients as part of a pilot study led by Miss Shamim Umarji, a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at St George’s. It’s believed to be the first trial of its type in Britain.

The headsets are being offered to patients having regional anaesthetic for upper limb surgery as a way of helping them to relax ahead of and during surgery.

Patients participating in the pilot have the option of wearing a headset before going into the anaesthetic room and also in the operating theatre.

The VR experience allows patients to be transported to exotic locations across the world, including beaches, forests, hilltops and waterfalls.

To measure the effectiveness of the headsets, patients are asked to rate the severity of their pain and anxiety before and after wearing the headsets, and their blood pressure and heart rate is recorded too.

The feedback from participants has been positive; 100% of patients said wearing the headset improved their overall hospital experience and 94% said they felt more relaxed.

The headsets are also having an impact on the way patients experience pain and anxiety; 80% said they felt less pain after wearing the headset and 73% reported feeling less anxious.

Miss Umarji said: “Many patients feel quite anxious about the prospect of being awake during surgery, so it’s fantastic to see the positive impact virtual reality can have on the patient experience. As surgeons we occasionally lose sight of how daunting the operating theatre can be.

“The other benefit of using virtual reality to manage pain and anxiety is that it avoids the need for sedatives or general anaesthesia, which takes patients much longer to recover from. It’s also self-empowering for patients because it requires their participation and involvement.”

Dr Sue Hutchinson, Consultant Anaesthetist, said: “Many patients don’t want to hear or see anything in theatre. Even if I tell them that they wont feel any pain, they’re very worried about being awake in the theatre environment. We’ve previously used sedation to make patients feel sleepy or drowsy, but with virtual reality we don’t need do to that.”

Austin Mills, 23, from Putney, is one of the first patients at St George’s to wear a VR headset during surgery.

Austin needed surgery after breaking his scaphoid, a small bone in the wrist, following a collision with a car while on his push bike.

Commenting after his operation, Austin said: “I was in a mountain setting next to a lake listening to relaxing music and guided meditation. I literally felt like I was there apart from the occasional tug on my shoulder, which was the only indication that I was in theatre.

“The headset helped to take my mind off what was going on and I had to make a conscious effort to not fall asleep, it was extremely relaxing. I didn’t know how long I was in there for, or what was going on around me – I was completely immersed in the VR experience.”

Notes to editors

Images are available to download here.

For further information about St George’s Hospital Charity, please visit