GPs prescribing arts activities to some ill patients could lead to a dramatic fall in hospital admissions and save the NHS money, according to a new report into the subject of arts, health and wellbeing published after two years of evidence-gathering.
The inquiry report was published on Wednesday; a huge document that includes hundreds of interviews and dozens of case studies showing how powerfully the arts can contribute to people’s health and wellbeing.
Co-chaired by former arts ministers Alan Howarth and Ed Vaizey, the all-party inquiry contends that the arts can keep people well, aid recovery from illness, help people to live longer, better lives and save money in health and social services.
Lord Howarth said it was a comprehensive review of evidence that had never been produced before. “Sceptics say where is the evidence of the efficacy of the arts in health? Where is the evidence of the value for money it can provide? We show it in this report.
“The arts can help people take responsibility for their own health and wellbeing in ways that will be crucial to the health of the nation.”
The report was welcomed by the current arts minister, John Glen, appointed five weeks ago. He pledged to act on its recommendations, saying: “This sort of work isn’t window-dressing, please don’t be cynical about it. It gives a dataset and some real stories that we can use as we go through the treacle of Whitehall.”
The case studies include an Artlift arts-on-prescription project in Gloucestershire where patients with a wide range of conditions, from depression to chronic pain to stroke, were referred to an eight-week course involving poetry, ceramics, drawing, mosaic or painting.
A cost-benefit analysis showed a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions. That represents an NHS saving of £216 per patient.
Strokestra, a collaboration between the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Hull stroke service, found that 86% of patients felt music-making sessions – which included percussion and conducting – relieved their symptoms and improved their sleep.
The report also includes contributions from artists including David Shrigley, who has provided illustrations, and Grayson Perry, who writes: “Making and consuming art lifts our spirits and keeps us sane. Art, like science and religion, helps us make meaning from our lives, and to make meaning is to make us feel better.”
Howarth said there were many examples of good practice and innovation around the UK, but also areas where little was going on.
“We are calling for an informed and open-minded 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.”
The report makes 10 “modest and feasible” recommendations that would not need additional public spending or require new legislation, the report authors said.
They include setting up a philanthropically funded strategic centre to support good practice, promote collaboration and coordinate research.
There are also recommendations about politicians and policymakers from different areas working better together, something Vaizey acknowledged was an issue.
Arts minister for six years until being sacked by Theresa May, Vaizey added: “I was very conscious as a minister that I worked in a silo and it was incredibly hard to break out of that silo, incredibly hard to engage with ministers from other government departments. The arts, almost more than any sector, is a classic example where silo working does not work.”
• The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing report is available here.