Matthew Swann: Music at the Heart of Health

News that the Arts Council of Wales is part of a growing recognition that the arts can play a significant role in healthcare and general wellbeing is welcome.

At CLS we’ve known this for a long time, and music-making in hospitals, hospices and care homes is something that we feel is central to how we benefit society and transform the lives of individuals.

That music can help people – emotionally, physically, mentally – and alleviate suffering, provide invaluable creative and emotional outlets will seem to some reading this blog as a statement of the obvious. To others it will sound like a rather grand and fluffy statement. Compared to ‘hard science’ clinical practice, our musicians making music with people in healthcare sounds like an expensive ‘nice to have’. Sure, it will benefit people but shouldn’t be the business of strained NHS and government budgets – leave it to generous philanthropists.

We’re very lucky to have many such philanthropists as supporters of CLS, and without entering into a discussion about the relative merits of private versus public funding, they will always be a hugely valued part of how we ensure our music making can reach as many people as possible.

Many people are convinced, as we are at CLS, that music has a far greater impact on individuals in healthcare than it simply being a ‘nice to have’. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that there are a real, tangible, quantifiable benefits to using music to benefit people at all stages of life in healthcare. A lot of the evidence surrounds issues associated with old age, not least dementia (although dementia is not an issue which only affects older people), or singing as a benefit to mental and physical wellbeing.

At CLS we have seen the benefits that music making can have on older people in residential care, those dealing with grief and loss, and particularly with young children suffering from severe and life limiting conditions. Recently we have begun to work with young people in hospital schools with severe psychiatric conditions. Our musicians at CLS are incredibly experienced and skilled at making music in these often emotionally challenging environments, and have any number of anecdotes from first-hand experience of how people benefit.

The issue we have, highlighted by the Arts Council of Wales, is convincing all the stakeholders involved – government, clinicians, funders – of the clear and tangible benefits that these projects have. To do that we need robust, empirical evidence, not only that music is an essential part of healthcare, but that the benefits are magnified when delivered through the unique skills, experience and outstanding artistry that professional musicians bring.

One of our priorities over the next few years is developing initial conversations with leading research institutions into far reaching research programmes developing the proof that music making is vital to healthcare. I am convinced that it is not a ‘nice to have’ to be funded only by enlightened philanthropists – as a society we should recognise the incredible benefits that music brings to people, alongside more traditional, clinical practices.

There are risks associated with this approach: it’s likely that not everything we do will deliver the benefits that simple observational evaluation suggests. But I, and our musicians, are convinced that music can make a vital difference to the lives of people in all areas of healthcare – let’s provide the proof.

Matthew Swann Chief Executive

 

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