Guest Editorial

Article excerpt

Arts in Health special issue

Arts projects in the Health Service regularly receive critical reaction in the popular media.

The unveiling of a polished stone sculpture outside the new University College hospital last year - said to cost £70,000 - came in for especially trenchant criticism from the Daily Mail who asked how this 'gallstone' as they described it, 'could possibly improve health care?" If there is money to spend surely it should go directly into the care of patients? Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, was similarly criticised recently for seeking to appoint an art curator "to lead, manage and develop the hospital's art project" with the Patients Association calling for the money to be spent on employing nursing staff. Perhaps some readers of this special issue might by now be nodding in agreement, especially at a time when the NHS appears to face a net financial deficit approaching £750 million in the 2005-6 financial year.

But such criticisms are unfair on many levels - not least in the implicit charge that public money is being wasted that could be better spent on healthcare. Most arts in health projects rely, in fact, on charitable trusts, sponsorship and voluntary donations of time and money. Also, the arts in contributing to improving the environments of hospital in making them more attractive, welcoming, distracting and soothing undoubtedly serve to create a more healing and health-promoting environment for patients, staff and visitors alike. And of course, the arts music, painting, drama and dance - can serve as a powerful vehicle for therapeutic interventions and rehabilitation for a variety of health problems.

The contribution of the arts in promoting health extend well beyond the walls of hospitals of course. The arts clearly have a role in addressing some of the most pressing public health issues we face today and into the foreseeable future. Issues of sedentary lifestyles, ageing and dependency, social isolation and mental health, drug use and crime, are all ones for which we have no ready solutions and certainly few that medicine and hospital care can offer. …