The idea of arts on prescription and social prescribing may seem like a new one, but it is actually more than 10 years since UK government policy first referenced linking patients with non-medical support in the community.
In the past couple of years, however, calls for the arts to be a core component of social prescribing in the UK have been growing. A recent report by Arts Council Wales, for example, has backed the idea. And, last summer, recommendations were put forward by an all-party parliamentary group for clinical commissioning groups, NHS trusts and local authorities to incorporate arts on prescription into their commissioning plans and redesign care pathways where appropriate.
At present there are a number of arts on prescription programmes operating around the UK – encompassing all kinds of human creativity including seated dance, creative writing, forum theatre and object handling in museums. There is a growing body of evidence which shows that different arts being prescribed have a positive impact on a variety of health conditions. One recent review, for instance, reported ten key benefits for those involved in these kinds of schemes. They included self esteem and confidence boosts, physical health improvements, better social connections and the acquisition of new skills.
But why the arts? Social prescribing aims to address the social causes of ill health and give people the support they need – such as advice about benefits, employment and housing. It can also include access to exercise, volunteering, and arts and creative activities. So it may seem like an advice system might be just as useful – but actually prescribing specific arts activities can have some unique benefits.
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