Patients in Somerset hypnotised to help with pain relief after major surgery

  • Watch Ben McGrail's report here.

Bowel surgery patients at a hospital in Somerset are being given hypnosis as part of a study to see if the therapy can help with pain management after an operation.

ITV News West Country has been given exclusive access to the year-long research project, which aims to recruit at least 40 patients to receive hypnosis while recovering from surgery. Its aim is to check whether it helps with their pain and overall recovery.

The current management is a combination of medicines, including opioids. Whilst widely used, they are sometimes not well tolerated due to their numerous adverse effects.

Patients taking part in the study are still receiving the same medicines but will also be undergoing hypnosis as well.

The project is the brainchild of clinical nurse researcher Ana-Maria Toth. Ana previously worked in Musgrove Park Hospital’s gastroenterology ward, before moving to a surgical ward, where she began to look at different ways of managing people’s pain in the days after surgery.

Ana said: "It prompted me to think about whether there was something else we could offer our patients that doesn’t involve medication, so I started researching hypnosis and I saw that it had been used elsewhere, in breast surgery and for patients recovering from burns.

“I then undertook an undergraduate degree in medical hypnosis at the University of Birmingham in my spare time, and I was joined by a range of other healthcare professionals across the country, including GPs, dentists, anaesthetists and nurses.

"I achieved my diploma and started to think about how I could bring my practice into the NHS through a potential research study. I applied for a grant through our official trust charity, Love Musgrove, which agreed to fund my part in the study."

Clinical nurse researcher Ana-Maria Toth is behind the project at the hospital

The main focus of the research is on pain, but it also looks at patients’ recovery, their length of stay in hospital and how fast they mobilise and get back to eating and drinking.

For those who agree to take part in the study, an 'intervention group' will receive hypnosis on top of the standard care, which is all the regular care they’d normally get. Patients in a ‘control group’ just receive regular care without hypnosis.

Ana said: "For patients allocated to the intervention group, the first hypnosis session will be offered at our first consultation. I will see them again 24 hours after their operation, when they’ll have a second hypnosis session, and a third hypnosis session will be offered three days after surgery. Then I follow up with the patient on the day they leave the hospital, as well as 10 days later.

“I will collect data about their pain level and general well-being, how they mobilised, and how they ate and drank during that time – all part of their recovery. Once we’ve recruited enough patients, a statistician will compare the data collected from the two groups and results will be used to inform a future larger study.”

One of the patients taking part is Patsy Carter from Bridgwater. She has been diagnosed with cancer of the colon and took part in the study after being told she would need a colectomy.

She said: "I like the idea of alternative ways of treating things without always resorting to painkillers. Anything that can help It just seems like a good idea."

On the therapy itself, she said: "It’s hard to explain but I certainly just feel an all-over relaxation, almost like a sort of feeling of wellbeing. It’s nothing like you see on the television where people end up dancing around on one leg and clucking - you’re aware of what’s going on. If there was a fire alarm you could respond but you just might be a bit slower because you’re a bit dopey."

Surgeon Ed Smyth performing Patsy Carter's colectomy

Consultant surgeon Mr Edward Smyth performed Patsy's surgery at the hospital and said: "I think this is transformational and I think Ana’s really been very proactive in identifying this very definite patient need. There’s no doubt that undergoing major surgery is a potentially stressful and anxious time and I don’t just mean mentally stressful, it’s the stress on the entire body - we call it the stress response to surgery and my hope is perhaps what Ana’s achieving will make that less marked."

Ana said she understands that some people may be nervous about the concept of hypnosis after watching certain TV shows, but reassures that there are lots of safeguards in place and the study has been through the standard governance and ethics protocols.

“We’re using hypnosis in a really positive way to see if it benefits a patient’s care,” she continued.

“If it proves to be beneficial to patients, then there’s scope for an even larger trial to be run across the country in the future. My message to patients thinking about joining the hypnosis trial is that they really have nothing to lose as they’d still get the same level of care as before, but with the potential addition of hypnosis.

"At the very least it will relax patients and we hope that the trial will show many other benefits too. I hope that curiosity wins out over fear!

“We’re the only trust in the country trialling hypnosis following colorectal surgery so it would be a really big discovery if the results prove that it works.”