Arts on referral: why we need a more creative approach to health and wellbeing

Image Credit: 
Photo by M-n-M CC BY 2.0.
6 September, 2017
“I no longer take any medication and, although I am not without problems, I find that as long as I can paint I can cope” – art on prescription service-user 
VCSE organisations that use the arts* for therapeutic purposes will welcome a new report from central government evidencing the powerful role played by creative arts in improving health. 
In times of great strain caused by lack of funding, an ageing population and the propagation of long-term, complex health conditions, the report calls for a ‘willingness to accept that the arts can make a significant contribution to addressing a number of the pressing issues faced by our health and social care systems’.
It includes a series of case studies, demonstrating, for example: 
The successes of Social Prescribing projects, where patients demonstrated 37% less demand for GP appointments and a 27% drop in the need for hospital admissions, following a six month period of working with an artist. 
Using dance as a form of early intervention in an innovative approach to dealing with psychosis, and; 
The role of arts in expressing difficult emotions for people in the criminal justice system.
Using the arts as therapy is seen to closely align with the new direction of movement in the UK healthcare system: that is, from ‘a hospital-centred and illness-based system to a person-centred and health-based system’.
Collaboration across traditional boundaries
The report celebrates cross-sector collaboration and co-production, citing examples of successful partnerships between institutions such as the South London Gallery and Southwark Council’s Parental Mental Health Team. 
These kinds of relationships were seen to have multiple benefits, given that people from deprived communities (who are more likely to experience poor health outcomes), are traditionally least likely to access publicly funded arts activities. 
In short, healthcare professionals can and should play a pivotal role in bringing people closer to the arts.
Devolution: building on individual and community strengths
Manchester is an example of the growing ‘creative arts for health’ movement. Its City Devo deal gives localised power over healthcare spending and the resulting Population Health Plan recognises the importance of strong links between the arts and community health: Arts and culture are being included in partnerships between health service commissioners and providers, with arts activities forming a core part of future planning and provision.
The West of England
The West of England devolution deal does not currently have healthcare in its remit, however these powers could be devolved in future deals, however there is a vibrant body of social prescribing work being carried out by VCSE organisations in Bristol.
Funding for Social Prescribing
Click here to find out more about the VCSE Health and Wellbeing Fund for social prescribing (deadline = 21st November 2017)


*‘When we talk about arts we mean the visual and performing arts, including crafts, dance, film, literature, music and singing, as well as culinary arts and gardening. The cultural field embraces concert halls, galleries, heritage sites, libraries, museums, and theatres’ (p.4 – short report).
About the authors
The Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing report was commissioned and carried out by an all-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, in partnership with National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, King’s College London, the Royal Society for Public Health and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity.
The findings follow two years of research and draw on evidence from discussions with patients, health and social care professionals, artists and arts administrators, academics, and people in local and national government.
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