Patients in London waiting for NHS mental health therapy will trial an AI therapy chatbot to see if it can improve depression and anxiety levels.

Patients at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust who are on the waiting list for mental health support will be randomly selected to participate a in £1million trial. Those selected will have access to an AI chatbot, Wysa, which will monitor their levels of anxiety and depression using app-based questionnaires.

Wysa uses natural language understanding to provide support through interactive conversation to deliver advice based on clinically-reviewed cognitive behavioural techniques. The AI-enabled chatbot’s responses are individual tailored to meet each user’s needs at that moment.

Wysa has an extensive library of on-demand resources to help patients manage their mental health, including cognitive behavioural techniques, meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and motivational interviewing.

The NHS trial will provide clinical evidence on the digital health’s app ability to improve or maintain mental health symptoms while patients wait for traditional talking therapies. It is hoped that patients will not see a decline in their mood while waiting for treatment and in some cases may improve, which will reduce the number of conventional sessions needed, minimise wait time and improve the recovery rate.

Dr Lucy Wilson-Shaw, consultant clinical psychologist at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, said: “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.

The London trial is also aiming to provide evidence that Wysa can accurately detect when patients experience more severe mental health difficulties, and automatically identify those patients who need higher intensity or more urgent treatment.

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.

Mental health support is increasingly going digital. A recent collaboration with Kooth and myGP is improving digital access to mental health support, while in London the Best For Your service includes a new digital platform to support youth people needing urgent mental health support.