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Paintings in Hospitals approaches its own 60th birthday next year, but this year we've celebrated the NHS’s 70th birthday (on 5th July 2018) with a countdown of 70 ways art has contributed to the nation’s physical, mental and social health. Art, galleries and artists have all had a major role to play in health. However, the challenges of a growing older population, government cuts, ageing hospitals, along with the necessity of having cleanable, sterile spaces, has meant that the value and benefits of art and design in health can be negated.

A tour of the art at University College Hospital

A tour of the art at University College Hospital

Paintings in Hospitals officially began in 1959 and since then we have strived to restore art and bring creative activities to the healthcare spaces in which they can make the most difference. To celebrate ways in which the NHS can use art to improve the UK’s health and well-being, here are 10 highlights from our list:

1. Art can help us get active

Not moving around enough is damaging to our health. Studies have found that the more time we spend being still, the more likely we are to develop diabetes, heart disease and other life-shortening conditions. Art is a great reason to get active, while also learning a little and having fun. Beyond your average museum tour, there are also hundreds of brilliant guided and self-guided art walks across the UK, both in cities and the countryside in places like Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

2. Art can help us manage pain

A study by Dr Rosalia Staricoff found that patients took 70mg less pain medication per day when arts were introduced into the care environment, compared to patients in a care environment with no arts. In addition, people with pain often remark that they find their experiences ‘beyond words’ and therefore hard to describe. Art and art therapies can help us explore, understand and manage chronic pain.

A look at works by Quentin Blake

A look at works by Quentin Blake

3. Art can help prevent burnout

The most recent quarterly British Medical Association figures show 45% of doctors describing their morale as being low or very low. NHS workplaces can be enriched by art, and the installation of artworks makes them more enjoyable. Art creates a work environment that encourages creativity, relieves stress and improves the well-being of employees who care for people.

4. Art offers a moment of respite for carers

Group creative activities allow carers a few moments of respite from the duties of daily life. They offer the chance to meet new people and do something new. They are safe spaces to express emotions, share experiences, and importantly, take a little bit of time to look after themselves.

Still Life on White

Still Life on White

Elizabeth V. Blackadder (1931–2021)

Paintings in Hospitals

5. Art helps us speak the unspeakable

Art can be both cerebral and visceral. Art can engender physical responses and communicate emotional complexity without saying a word. It can be used by people who have experienced trauma to release and deal with some of these held emotions and memories.

6. Art can help us come to terms with death

During terminal illness, arts participation provides an antidote to physical and psychological distress. Our art loans to hospices help people, in small ways, frame thoughts and the stories of their lives, and appreciate the beauty that still surrounds us. Art in palliative care can ensure that the end of life is filled with colour, vibrancy and meaning.

Still Life with Flowers and Apple

Still Life with Flowers and Apple

Reg Cartwright (b.1938)

Paintings in Hospitals

7. Arts enhance sensory experiences for people with dementia

Artworks and creative experiences can help support people with dementia to live a life as close as possible to how they were living prior to the onset of dementia.  Objects, art, ephemera and creative activities can help support and manage some sensory, cognitive and physical impairments.

8. Art can help offenders reconnect and reform

Art and creative activities can provide offenders with an opportunity to reflect, an outlet to express difficult feelings and experiences, and offer much-needed support to boost individual mental health and well-being, as organisations like the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance help champion.

Cornish Daffodils

Cornish Daffodils 1991

Pauline Vincent (b.1940)

Paintings in Hospitals

9. Art can support stroke recovery

Creative art therapies for stroke survivors have been found to significantly decrease levels of depression; improve impaired physical functions, and increase overall quality of life, compared with conventional physical therapies alone.

10. Arts on prescription can save the NHS money

People perceive having arts in health as an ‘opportunity cost’ (that having art or programmes we offer would be at the expense of equipment or medicine) but this is not the case. We fundraise so that health and social care sites do not have to.  Additionally, a fifth of patients visit a GP for a problem that needs a social solution, not a medical one. Problems include loneliness, confidence and debt. These visits cost the equivalent of 3,750 doctors’ salaries a year. A recent 'arts-on-prescription' project led to a 37% decrease in GP visits. That saved £216 per patient just in one area in one year!

As the NHS turns 70, we need your help to do more: If you see any type of health or social care site where you think we could make a difference, or know patients, service users or care home residents who would benefit from art and creative activities – please get in touch with Paintings in Hospitals and help us help the NHS do more.

Ben Pearce, Director, Paintings in Hospitals