From:  All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing.

Creative Health:  The Arts for Health and Wellbeing (July 2017)

It is time to recognise the powerful contribution the arts can make to health and wellbeing.  There are now many examples and much evidence of the beneficial impact they can have.  We have three key messages in this report:


  • The arts can help keep us wee, aid our recovery and support longer lives better lived.

  • The arts can help meet major challenges facing health and social care:  ageing, long-term conditions, loneliness and mental health.

  • The arts can help save money in the health service and social care.


The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (APPGAHW) was formed in 2014. Our aim is to improve awareness of the benefits that the arts can bring to health and wellbeing, and to stimulate progress towards making these benefits a reality all across the country.  We decided to carry out an Inquiry into existing engagement of the arts in health and social care, with a view to making recommendations to improve policy and practice.


We have held a series of 16 round table discussions at which some 300 people – service – users, people working in the arts, health and social care, including the prison service and end-of-life care, commissioners, funders and academics – have come together to share their thoughts on challenges they face, tell us what they are already doing and what they aspire to do and debate how progress may best be achieved.  We have been struck by the passion and eloquence of our witnesses, both providers and beneficiaries of the arts in health and social care (some of what they told us can be read and heard on our website:  www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg)   ….




Professor Jane Macnaughton at Durham University has noted that the increase in hospital-building around the millennium facilitated innovate design and the construction of dedicated display areas, providing a community cultural resource.  A more recent example is Southmead Hospital in Bristol, which opened in 2014.  In this scheme, Willis Newson managed a 1.1m pound programme, involving professional artists working alongside the hospital community to enhance the physical care environment and the culture of care.  This led to six substantial public art commissions integrated into the building and grounds, a recurring arts festival and a series of interventions to aid the transition from old to new hospitals.  Andrea Young, Chief Executive of North Bristol NHS Trust, who commissioned the work, has noted that ‘’The art at Southmead Hospital Bristol helps to create a more aesthetically pleasing environment, which is important for people’s sens of wellbeing.  There are special places where people can have a quiet moment for reflection;  there are things to help you feel more cheerful and things to comfort you.  The art is helping to make Southmead Hospital a better place to be for patients, visitors dans taff.  The relationship between Willis Newson and the trust continues, leading to new artistic commissions and an ongoing community arts room programme.




With over 1.3 million staff, the NHS is one of the UK’s largest employers. A review of health and wellbeing in the NHS, conducted by Dr. Steven Boorman in 2009, found that NHS organisations which valued staff health and wellbeing had better outcomes, higher levels of patient satisfaction, better staff retention and lower sickness absence.  Within the NHS, some 10 million working days are lost to sick leave every year, costing 2.4 pound – around 1 pound in every 40 pound of the total budget.  The Boorman Review estimated that this could be cut by a third, equating to almost 15,000 full-time staff and saving 555 Million pounds.


The Royal College of Physicians has made explicit the relationship between staff health and patient care.  The workforce strand of STPs will be crucial to influencing the public’s health from a preventative perspective.  In September 2015, NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens announced a major drive to improve and support the health of healthcare staff, dealing with burnout and stress, diet, exercise and physical and mental health.  In February 2016, NHS England’s Health  as a Social Movement programme set out to work with 32 CCGs, five major acute NHS Trusts and their charities across London to address workplace health and wellbeing.


Fifty-one percent of ambulance staff and 43 percent of mental healthcare staff cite work related stress as the reason for their absence from work.  A study of emergency service workers in Canada found that attending cultural events during leisure time improved physical health.  Cultural events included concerts, ballet, theatre and museums, and were found to be means of coping with stress.  This suggests that arts attendance may be particularly useful in improving staff wellbeing, which then has an impact on patient wellbeing and outcomes.  In addition to this, ‘’Art therapy-based interventions, writers, theologians, poets, patients, philosophers, musicians, politicians and doctors.  In a contribution to the Inquiry, the organisation made a succinct statement which contains resonance for our work:


‘’ We contend that good medicine cannot be understood simply as a sound evidence base for the right technical decisions and interventions;  it demands more from the practitioner, a wider kind of knowledge characterised by:  empathy, morality, the recognition of human suffering and wisdom.  These attributes are not always prioritised in the selection and training of healthcare professionals.  Further, there is a hiatus of trust, understanding and expectation between medicine and society around the possibilities and limits of medicine. (…I)  We contend that arts and humanities can illuminate this perspective, bring us to debate and foster awe, wonder and perhaps humility.’’





The aesthetic preferences of people with Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia have been seen to remain constant even when they have no memory of specific artworks.  Research conducted at Dulwich Picture Gallery suggested that the episodic memory of people with dementia could be enhanced through aesthetic responses to social benefits were reported, including improved mood and cognitive capacities and a greater sense of inclusion.


…. Canterbury district has the highest number of people with dementia in Kent.  A 2015 study at the Beaney Museum and Gallery in Canterbury, involving 66 people with early stage dementia and their carers, was the first to compare the wellbeing impact of three activities:  handling museum objects, viewing dans discussing art and a social, non-art activity (refreshment break).  Using a rigorous crossover design and the Caterbury Wellbeing Scales, both the object handling and art viewing activities were shown to be statistically significant in increasing subjective wellbeing as compared to the social activity alone. 





  • Arts in healthcare facilities help to diminish our anxiety and connect us with our humanity.


  • Visual art and music relieve the pain and anxiety of childbirth, lead to weight gain in premature babies and encourage parent-child bonding.


  • Environments for end-of-life care benefit from rooms of a domestic scale, overnight facilities for visitors, quiet spaces for family members and staff and soothing colours and artworks.


  • Museums and galleries contribute to increased psychological wellbeing and have a part to play in age – and dementia – friendly communities


  • The arts have a contribution to make to the committed, compassionate and caring health service envisage in the Francis Inquiry, making them central to training and development.


  • Cultural venues, including museums, galleries and libraries, will increasingly play a part in communities which are healthy, age – and dementia – friendly and compassionate.


  • A well-designed environment in children’s hospitals helps overcome fear and pain.