The national funder will look into appointing arts and health coordinators to each of Wales’ health boards to help broker links.

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The Arts Council of Wales (ACW) has outlined its intention to establish deeper links between the arts and healthcare services.

Produced following a mapping exercise of Wales’ current arts in health provision, a new report identifies an “urgent” need to overhaul funding for arts and health projects and to address the “uneven” spread of support.

It also calls for incentives to make ‘social prescribing’ more widespread and ACW has pledged to consider supporting the appointment of an arts and health coordinator to each of Wales’ seven health boards, which coordinate health provision across the country.

Writing in the foreword, ACW Chair Phil George said the funder is “acutely conscious” that its resources are small in relation to those allocated to health and that it needs to focus support on interventions that can have the most impact.

“So this isn’t about inventing new things to do,” he added. “Instead, we must grasp the need to be more closely aligned with the priorities of Government and Health Boards and to respond to the challenge of making scalable interventions in key areas of wellbeing and health in the Welsh population.”

New report

Commissioned by the Government last year, the mapping research aimed to build a detailed picture of arts and health funding, programmes and policies, and asses the strengths and weaknesses of the current system.

It found ACW has spent an average of £33k per year on arts and health programmes over the past 12 years, peaking with £685k of investment last year.

The mapping survey collected details of 207 recent, current or future arts in health projects taking place across Wales. These were found to be concentrated in the north of Wales (40% of surveyed projects), and the report notes the four regions with the most project activity are those that already have a dedicated arts and health coordinator in place.

Almost all of the projects mapped focused on improving the mental health of participants, and the majority intended to improve both participants’ mental and physical health.

Projects range from participatory programmes, to preventative projects, to public art in GP clinics and artist residencies in hospitals. One project, ‘Pimp my Zimmer’, involved artists working with staff and older people to add artistic designs and sounds to zimmer frames. 57% of projects featured visual arts elements, 43% featured music, and 35% dance.

The report also notes the growth of social prescribing, the process in which a medical professional prescribes arts activity instead of, or in addition to conventional medicine to help a patient. This has precedent in England too, where a clinical commissioning group in Cheshire recently committed to prescribing singing and dancing.

Explaining this trend, the report notes there is a “growing body of research that suggests 20% of patients visit GPs for what is primarily a welfare, rather than medical, problem”.

The largest challenges facing arts and health projects were found to be securing funding and having time and capacity for projects, with the report noting the projects that secure larger-scale investment are those already working to a large scale, those with high-quality research partnerships, or those linked to UK-wide initiatives.

Proposals

In response to the mapping findings, ACW has committed to building on successful practice in arts and health, developing capacity and skills in the arts sector, and working to strengthen the evidence base for this work.

Recommendations in the report, which was conducted by independent research specialists on behalf of the Arts Council, include translating a Memorandum of Understanding between ACW and the Welsh NHS Confederation into a mutually agreed programme of activity. It is one of a number of proposals based around partnership and collaboration, rather than new policies.

The report says ACW should produce an Arts and Health Action Plan, focused on prevention and wellbeing; improving currently available evidence; raising awareness about the benefits of arts and health; and researching sustainable models of practice.

It also suggests ACW establish an Arts and Health Research alliance with healthcare and education influencers.

Vanessa Young, Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation said: “There are already a lot of initiatives happening across Wales that promote the health benefits of art and creativity.

“The feedback is very positive – clinicians involved in an arts project for young teenagers with mental health difficulties are seeing a significant improvement in their wellbeing, and care workers are turning training in creativity into activities that make a real change in their patients’ lives.

“We are pleased to be working with the Arts Council of Wales to raise awareness of the health and wellbeing benefits of engaging in the arts and creative activity.”

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A photo of Frances Richens