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The role of the arts in healthcare

Good news! The Department of Health has published a report supporting the use of arts in healthcare. A group chaired by Harry Cayton, the National Director for Patients and the Public, has published their key findings, which stated that:

"Arts and health are, and should be, firmly recognised as being, integral to health, healthcare provision and healthcare environments, including supporting staff."(1)

Reading this came as a great - it means I am not as "out there" as I thought. My journey to poetry and singing in healthcare parallels developments taking place all over the country.

How to get arts integrated into healthcare will be a challenge as it will undoubtedly be seen as an optional extra and a luxury and the costs will be seen as competing with clinical care.

Last Friday I was listening to Radio 4 and there was an item on "You and Yours" about the report. The two issues they discussed were about works of art in healthcare environments and the building of new NHS premises. There is a scheme where NHS trusts can hire art works to enhance their environment, and although some patients might not notice there was a general feeling that good art can really lift the spirits and that an attractive space can help recovery by promoting wellbeing. Architects designing new NHS premises are giving much more thought to the aesthetic qualities of the buildings as well as their function.

All of this is good news for those of us who really believe that the arts should be made available to everyone, particularly to people when they are at their most vulnerable. However, the crunch comes when we try and find the right people to talk to in the PCT to promote and commission this type of project. My recent conversations with managers in PCTs suggest that roles and responsibilities are still being rolled out (excuse the pun!) and that finding someone to speak to about these issues presents quite a challenge at the moment.

I am really hoping that in the future there will be people with vision and imagination working in PCTs who will be prepared to give poetry and singing a go. The costs won't be huge but the benefits might be great. Not all artists/writers/poets/sculptors/potters have the skills or confidence to work with groups or individuals in the NHS. However, experience tells me that practitioners do not need to work on their own. If we are really committed to these endeavours then it pays to find people you can work with and work alongside them - create networks to provide support, supervision and guidance. Anyone requiring advice about these enterprises need look no further for advice - you know where I can be contacted!

Anyway, enough self-publicity. I am running my first "Writing and Wellbeing" workshop this week in Stanley and I am both excited and terrified at the prospect. I have probably overthought it, prepared too many exercises and am worrying unnecessarily, but hey ho. I will let you know how it goes. It might be the beginning of something very exciting.

1. Department of Health. Report of the Review of Arts and Health Working Group Crown Publications. London: DH; 2007.