An NHS trial is being expanded to offer a drug-free treatment for depression – and this time it’s open to eligible NHS clinicians with the condition. 

The trial is being run in conjunction with the NHS Practitioner Health service and will see front-line NHS clinicians gain access to a form of non-invasive treatment – transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) treatment from Flow Neuroscience.

This brain stimulation technique targets the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain controlling key cognitive skills such as emotional expression and is most associated with depression.

The Flow device is a headset that delivers a weak direct electrical current through electrodes. This can help restore activity in the left frontal lobe and help rebalance activity. Those who join the NHS trial will be asked to wear the headset for just 30 minutes a day.

Erin Lee from Flow Neuroscience said: “There is a mental health crisis amongst NHS professionals, and we need to open up the treatment options beyond drugs – which do not work for everyone, and cannot be taken by some professional in their field of work too. We owe our NHS practitioners access to as many treatment options as possible in order that they can find the right treatment for them and get well, and while antidepressants are one solution, many struggle with side effects.

“This trial will initially give 50 clinicians with depression the opportunity to access the effective, drug-free treatment, at home, without the side effects of medication.”

With an alarming 50% of all doctors saying their mental health is worse now than it was during the pandemic, the Flow device can be used as part of a holistic approach to tackling depression.

In the largest-ever clinical trial of its kind, the Flow device was found to be twice as effective at treating depression than antidepressants. This latest trial is part of Flow’s broader NHS programme which aims to demonstrate how the device can be integrated into NHS operations. It is hoped if the technology was adopted it would improve patient choice and outcomes and reduce the cost of care.

Dr Zaid Al-Najjar, medical director for NHS Practitioner Health, said: “Although we offer a wide range of treatments for mental health and addiction disorders, we are always on the lookout for new and innovative ways to support our patients. We are therefore excited to work with Flow Neuroscience to offer eligible patients an evidence-based alternative treatment for depression where indicated.”