New depression therapy now available to patients thanks to Somerset NHS Foundation Trust merger

Thanks to our mental health services and ear, nose and throat (ENT) department working closely together we are the only NHS Trust in the south west with a specialist vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) service for patients with difficult to treat depression.

In February 2020 Somerset patients were the first in the world outside the United States to receive the new symmetry VNS therapy.

Dr Andreas Papadopoulos, our clinical director for our general adult inpatient wards and home treatment team, said: “Depression is a chronic debilitating illness that affects not only a person’s mood but also their daily functioning and their quality of life.

“It has been the leading cause of disability and the fourth leading contributor to the global burden of disease. It includes eventual suicide in 15 per cent of those affected, as well as increased morbidity and mortality from other illnesses.

“With such a great impact there has been renewed interest in novel treatment methods. VNS is a new treatment option for patients with difficult to treat depression and early studies have shown long term benefits for patients.”

Mr Ed Chisholm, our ENT consultant, said: “Our patients are assessed to check whether they would benefit from the VNS procedure and are then referred by their psychiatrist to an ENT consultant at Musgrove Park Hospital, who carries out a surgical assessment of the patient.

“The VNS implanting procedure takes about 90 minutes and is performed under general anaesthetic. At the moment we intend to provide VNS therapy to about eight patients a year.

“The therapy acts like a pacemaker and generates impulses through the vagus nerve in the neck which in turn affects chemicals in the brain.

“VNS therapy has been used for over 20 years to treat epilepsy and more recently is being used to treat people with difficult to treat depression. A five year study of patients with this type of depression demonstrated the long term benefit of VNS therapy.

“Studies show that VNS takes about six months to work, but then has the potential to make a significant different to the person’s mood, giving them a much better quality of life so they feel a lot more motivated than before.

“And according to research patients who have had VNS are far less likely to experience a relapse of their depressive symptoms. Early evidence suggests that the mortality rate of these patients may be reduced, particularly the number of people who die by suicide or who self-harm.

“The merger has made these collaborations between the community based psychiatric team and the hospital surgical team possible and the benefits for our patients are clearly huge.”