Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust is to roll out an AI-powered therapy chatbot which aims to give patients mental health support before, during and after NHS-prescribed talking therapies.

From April, Wysa will be integrated into the trust’s services, which will mean that once a patient is on the waiting list for an NHS therapist, they will gain immediate access to Wysa’s 24/7 interactive mental health support.

Patients can use Wysa’s talking therapy for immediate support and help in managing their symptoms. It is hoped that in doing so, they can help prevent their mental health from deteriorating while they wait for their therapist appointment.

Joel Hooper, IAPT business manager at Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We want to tap into people’s personal preferences for communicating to make self-referrals easier. We hope that by making self-help more interactive that we can prevent patients from deteriorating while they wait, perhaps even improving their symptoms.

“Wysa will help patients learn the basic skills needed for effective therapy, so they can then build on that foundation in their therapy sessions. It’s a better way of ensuring patients are continually engaging with their therapy and taking ownership of their recovery.”

Patients start with an e-triage experience and be taken through an interactive version of the questionnaires needed to access NHS talking therapies. The AI chatbot will then be able to guide users through interactive self-care exercises, pulled from Wysa’s NHS-approved self-care library of evidence-based intervention exercises.

Wysa will regularly check-in with users to monitor progress through ongoing triage questions. The service will suggest relevant interactive self-help exercises, manage clinical risk and also highlight if a patient requires emergency attention.

The technology will support therapist sessions and be made available to patients for up to a year after discharge to prevent relapse. Alongside this, Steps2Wellbeing (a free, NHS mental health service for adults registered with a GP in Dorset and Southampton, including Poole and Bournemouth) will contact patients through Wysa to arrange appointments, track patient progress and prescribe homework from Wysa’s library.

Wysa managing director Ross O’Brien, added: “Wysa will create a digital front door that will make it easier for patients in Dorset and Southampton to access the vital mental health support they need, when they need it. What we’re trying to do is bridge the gap between patients asking to access care and receiving treatment.”

Patients can be referred by their GP, or self-refer through the Steps2Wellbeing website.

Wysa is also currently being trialled in London at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust to provide clinical evidence on the digital health’s app ability to improve or maintain mental health symptoms while patients wait for traditional talking therapies