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Referrals for art and poetry classes ‘could save the NHS money’

Report by MPs and peers says the NHS should use ‘arts-on-prescription’ programmes in an effort to improve patients’ health and well-being.
Art classes

Health professionals should be encouraged to refer patients to art classes and poetry workshops in an effort to improve their health and well-being, a report by MPs and peers has recommended.

Greater use of arts-on-prescription programmes could save the NHS money by improving patients mental or physical health, it says, with evidence suggesting creative activities could lower GP consultation rates and hospital admissions.

Examine the evidence

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing said: Arts-on-prescription activities help people to overcome physical and psychological pain, playing a vital role in the recovery and maintenance of health. Group creative activities in the community also help to overcome social isolation in people of all ages.

The group recommended that NHS England and the Social Prescribing Network

Health professionals should be encouraged to refer patients to art classes and poetry workshops in an effort to improve their health and well-being, a report by MPs and peers has recommended.


Arts-on-prescription activities, such as painting and pottery, help people to overcome pain, the report says. Picture: iStock

Greater use of ‘arts-on-prescription’ programmes could save the NHS money by improving patients’ mental or physical health, it says, with evidence suggesting creative activities could lower GP consultation rates and hospital admissions.

Examine the evidence

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health and Wellbeing said: ‘Arts-on-prescription activities help people to overcome physical and psychological pain, playing a vital role in the recovery and maintenance of health. Group creative activities in the community also help to overcome social isolation in people of all ages.’

The group recommended that NHS England and the Social Prescribing Network – a group of health professionals, academics, community and voluntary sector representatives, commissioners and funders that works to share knowledge and best practice in this area – should support clinical commissioning groups, NHS trusts and local authorities to incorporate arts-on-prescription in their plans.

It also said the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence should regularly examine the evidence and, where justified, include the use of the arts in its guidelines.

The report highlighted the Artlift programme in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, in which health professionals refer patients with conditions such as depression, chronic pain and stroke to take part in an eight-week artist-led course in poetry, ceramics, drawing or mosaics.

GP consultations down

An analysis showed that following the courses, the patients’ GP consultation rates dropped by 37% and hospital admissions by 27%, a saving of £216 per patient.

Health Select Committee chair Sarah Wollaston said: ‘If social prescribing were a drug, people would be outraged that doctors weren’t prescribing it.’

Former culture minister Ed Vaizey said the last health secretary to talk about the arts was Labour’s Alan Johnson. In an apparent reference to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is a former culture secretary, Mr Vaizey said: ‘It’s pretty shocking that health ministers have come and gone who have previously held positions in the Department of Culture and know about the importance and value of the arts, but haven’t seen fit to provide that leadership, to show how the arts can make a real difference.’

Royal Society for Public Health chief executive Shirley Cramer said: ‘We are delighted that this comprehensive report illustrates and champions these benefits. We hope that it will transform the conversation in the health sector around arts and stimulate the widespread implementation of new and innovative approaches.’


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