What is arts in health?

Evelina Children's Hospital, StarslideThe link between creativity and wellbeing is long established. Hippocrates wrote “art is long, life is short”. The Ancient Greeks pursued the notion of wellbeing stemming from a well lived life and the arts and creativity were essential elements in that. The founding principle of the World Health Organisation is that “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity … the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being”.  The arts can contribute to our complete wellbeing.

There is now an overwhelming body of evidence demonstrating that participation in the arts and access to a range of arts opportunities can dramatically improve health outcomes and increase wellbeing. By supplementing medicine and care, the arts can improve the health of people who experience mental or physical health problems. Engaging in the arts can promote prevention of disease and build wellbeing. The arts can improve healthcare environments and benefit staff retention and professional development.

Using the arts to improve the nation’s health

Hospitals and other care settings that pay close attention to the overall physical environment for patients achieve real improvements in the health of patients. Access and participation in the arts are an essential part of our everyday wellbeing and quality of life." Secretary of State for Health 2008

"The arts are and should be firmly recognised as being integral to health, healthcare provision and healthcare environments." DoH 2007

 There are, broadly, four main areas of Arts in Health Work:

Music in HospitalsArts in the healthcare environment: Incorporating architectural design and the full range of artforms, the arts can improve healthcare environments, transforming sterile clinical environments into more supportive, public spaces. This work encompasses issues of lighting, wayfinding, gardens and clinical areas potentially offering distraction for patients and improved clinical outcomes as well as benefitting visitors and boosting staff morale.

Participatory community and hospital based arts programmes: Participatory arts and crafts activities in community and healthcare settings provide opportunities for people to engage with each other and their own creativity directly improving their sense of wellbeing. The arts can reduce stress and increase social engagement as well as provide opportunities for self-expression. Studies have shown that creative expression affects peoples’ sense of control over ill health and can result in reduced reliance on analgesics.

Medical training and Medical Humanities: The arts have a role to play in developing the practice of medicine and the understanding of wellbeing. By incorporating the arts into medical training and the professional development of clinicians, the practice of healthcare is humanised and importance of patient centred care recognised. Arts opportunities for staff can improve communication and observational skills and increase understanding of diversity in society. At the same time, understanding of medicine is enhanced by using arts techniques to explore issues and engage with the public in a more accessible language.

??Arts Therapy: Arts therapists are registered with the Health Professions Council and are accredited forms of therapy which use the arts as their primary form of communication. The arts therapies (drama, music and visual art) have now become an established psychotherapeutic tool for used by qualified therapists with clients, usually on a one to one basis.

How it is paid for?

Arts in health work is funded from a range of sources. Some Primary Care Trusts invest in participatory activities and many hospitals now have active arts programmes for patients. Improvements to the hospital environment are often paid for by building developers and contractors as part of their contract with the NHS. Other sources of funding are the National Lottery (through Arts Council England, Awards for All, the Big Lottery Fund or the Sports Council), Charitable Trusts and Foundations, Local Authority grants, and business sponsorship.


For more information about all aspects of arts and health work, and the evidence which underpins it visit www.cultureandwellbeing.org.uk