A report has been produced that suggests the arts can make a powerful contribution to people’s health and wellbeing. The Parliamentary committee responsible for compiling the report, highlighted several examples around the UK of groups that helped people who had suffered from mental illness, chronic pain and chronic conditions. The report suggested that arts-based approaches could support current NHS approaches by enabling people to stay well, recover faster, manage their long-term conditions and enable them to experience a better quality of life. The committee felt that using the arts could help to save the NHS money and help the staff to better carry out their work.
The report fits in with a new emphasis in the NHS, on the development of non-medical responses to a range of needs experienced by patients, including physical needs, wellbeing or mental health needs. The UK has an ageing population which is living longer and with ever-complex health needs. NHS England has produced a report on a five year view to help encourage healthy ageing. The report evidence suggests that organised arts activities are able to enable people to take more responsibility for their own health and enjoy a better quality of life.
Mental health issues can strike at any age. Young people and teens, as well as people in mid-life and the elderly, can suffer from anxiety, depression and stress. Arts activities can also be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. They can help people to express their feelings and emotions, they can help people access painful memories, if they are suffering from post-traumatic stress. Music has been found to help people suffering from dementia and many arts activities are communal, so the people taking part have the chance to meet others rather than suffering from loneliness.
The report highlights a number of arts activities taking place that have enabled people to enjoy their lives more. These include a charity based in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire delivering arts-on-prescription. Artlife enables patients, who suffer from a number of different conditions, to be referred to take part on a course of two hour sessions for 8 weeks. The sessions are led by a professional artist, and include workshops on poetry, drawing, ceramics, mosaic and painting. After 6 months of working with an artist, the participants’ demand for GP appointments dropped by over one third, and hospital admissions dropped by just over a quarter.
In Calderdale, a project known as Staying Well offered a wide range of art and craft activities, run from 4 community hubs at low cost. The project assessed the users of the activities and found that there were 779 participants, of whom almost half had a long-term condition. Over a third had two or more long-term conditions. Three of hubs had a reduction in loneliness over the initial period and some participants also said that their health had improved. The initial time set for the project was just a 12 months pilot scheme, but it has now been extended three times.
The report sets out a number of recommendations, which are designed to bring collaborations between health and social care and the arts as an added tool to enable patients to take responsibility for their own health:
- A national strategic centre should be established to support good practice, enable collaboration, co-ordinate and make research available which can then inform policy and enable delivery. Arts leaders, health and social care leaders, academics and service users should be involved in this centre.
- A cross-governmental strategy should be set up by the relevant Secretaries of State to enable the delivery of wellbeing and health using arts and culture.
- An individual should be appointed to take responsibility for arts, health and wellbeing at board level in NHS England, in clinical commissioning groups, NHS trusts and local authorities.
- That Arts Council England encourages arts and cultural organisations to include health and wellbeing outcomes as part of their work and that health and wellbeing should be a priority in the 10 year strategy that is being developed for 2020-2030.
- That arts-on-prescription should be incorporated into commissioning plans by NHS Provider trusts, clinical commissioning groups, and local authorities, supported by the Social Prescribing Network and NHS England.
- That the health and wellbeing benefits of arts engagement be advocated to health and social care professionals and the wider public.
- That evidence-based, accredited modules on the health and wellbeing outcomes and the practical use of the arts be offered to clinicians, public health specialists and other health and care professionals. There should also be undergraduate and postgraduate courses and professional development modules that explore the contribution of arts to health and wellbeing.
- That long-term, large-scale health surveys include questions on the impact of arts engagement on health and wellbeing, and that the Research Councils UK, alongside individual research councils, fund an interdisciplinary, funded research initiative, cross-council, to increase the evidence base for the use of arts and culture to contribute to health and wellbeing.
- That the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) will regularly review the evidence for the use of arts and its benefit for health and wellbeing. Where evidence is found, that use of the arts will be included in NICE guidelines for healthcare.
Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing (The Short Report), July 2017, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing