Halton CCG’s manifesto for wellbeing commits the organisation to commissioning cultural activity, which it says can support wellbeing in ways that other methods cannot.

A photo of a choir
Choral singing will be used to help people with asthma regulate breathing

A healthcare provider in Cheshire has committed to prescribing reading, dancing and other forms of cultural engagement to people in the local area.

NHS Halton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), responsible for planning NHS services for more than 125,000 people, says its “more than medicine” approach will promote individual and community wellbeing in ways that other methods cannot.

“By working collaboratively with experts across culture, the environment and sports sector, and harnessing social value agendas, we will drive forward a 21st century approach to healthcare in Halton which others could follow,” the CCG says in a new manifesto.

It continues: “There are no pills for loneliness and poverty but a rich cultural context can help ensure residents are better connected to each other and feel more able to cope.”

Scarce resources

Dr Cliff Richards, former Chair of Halton CCG, told AP that Halton CCG’s commitment takes place against a backdrop of an aging population and rising healthcare costs, which make continuing as normal “unsustainable”.

“What is required is for health services to create health, rather than fix ill health. It is entirely appropriate to invest in non-traditional healthcare,” he said.

The manifesto is the result of two years of conversations with professionals and members of the public about the impact of such healthcare, and is intended as a call to action to agencies, local authorities and commissioning groups.

It says the CCG will:

  • Acknowledge the power of the spoken and written word by encouraging creative bibliotherapy and self-help reading in partnership with libraries
  • Promote singing and music by working with charity Live Music Now on the aspiration to put a choir in every care home, and recognising the benefits of singing in a community choir for managing asthma
  • Use dance to promote active lives and reduce frailty
  • Embrace museums and galleries to increase community engagement and social justice “through the better articulation of shared heritage”.

The manifesto includes three other key “activity domains” for the CCG – environmental, sporting and social – which combine to support and maintain wellbeing.

“We need to work with colleagues outside of health and care, to break down policy silos, to join up policy agendas so we can be clear about the benefits of working together,” it says.

Necessary development

Though the announcement follows news of the forthcoming rollout of Aesop’s ‘Dance to Health’ – which found its dance-based falls prevention programmes to have a 55% higher completion rate than the NHS alternative – Richards believes there is still work to do to place social prescribing in the mainstream:

“The arts are usually seen as fluff,” he told AP. “There’s enough evidence around to say cultural interventions are useful, but I think medical folk, looking at this from a scientific point of view, believe the research evidence isn’t as strong as it should be.

“We have to change the belief system. I think cultural commissioning should be mainstream – it should be another part of the doctor’s, and community’s toolkit.”

The manifesto will be formally launched on 18 May at the national social prescribing conference at the Kings Fund.

Speaking about the manifesto, Jessica Harris, Cultural Commissioning Programme Manager at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: “I’m delighted to see the publication of this cultural manifesto by Halton CCG – we are seeing more and more examples across the country of partnerships between health and arts and cultural organisations.

“Now we are beginning to see this work written into strategy, as an indication of commitment to change within the health sector.”

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