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Arts could make 'powerful contribution' to NHS savings

Prescribing arts activities to people with mental health problems could save the NHS money, time and resources

Prescribing arts activities to people with mental health problems could save the NHS money, time and resources, according to a cross-party group of MPs and peers.

Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing is a report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing detailing how arts-led alternatives to conventional therapy and medicine could serve as effective treatments for many mental health issues currently stretching costs within the NHS.

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Its analysis shows an arts-on-prescription service in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire as part of social prescribing lead to a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions, representing a saving for the NHS of £216 per patient.

A mental health recovery centre co-designed by services users in Wales was also estimated in the report to save the NHS £300,000 each year, with visual and performing arts being used to reduce sickness, anxiety and stress.

Group chair Alan Howarth said: ‘The time has come to recognise the powerful contribution the arts can to our health and wellbeing. We hope that our report will influence the thinking and practice of people working professionally in health and social care.

‘We offer a challenge to habitual thinking and ask for new collaborations to be formed across conventional boundaries. 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.’

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The report said that people in deprived London communities generally showed more positive outcomes once engaged in participatory arts programmes, with 79% eating healthier, 77% engaging in more physical activity and 82% enjoying greater wellbeing.

Music therapy was shown to reduce agitation and need for medication in 67% of dementia patients.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) lead for mental health Ian Hulatt said: ‘Mental health issues are complex and different patients respond to different treatments. With more and more people experiencing mental difficulties, adults and children alike, it’s very positive that creative activities are showing such potential.

‘Services are stretched to the max so it’s important that the health service explores new and different ways to help people. However, this type of therapy needs to complement traditional care – not replace it.

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‘It’s still crucial that the government invests in mental health services if we are to tackle what is fast becoming a crisis in our country.’

The report also looked at the development of health and social care workers, suggesting arts engagement could see staff improve their own wellbeing and help reduce the £2.4 billion the NHS loses yearly on sick days.