The Aesthetic and the Anaesthetic?

19 Feb 2018
Man plays violin with elderly woman smiling playing percussion in chair

Today the University of Winchester and Hampshire Hospitals Foundation Trust launch a unique joint partnership which aims to develop innovative approaches to wellbeing. Here, Dr David M Walters, FRSPH, Director of the Centre for Arts as Wellbeing, describes the Centre's work in bringing arts into healthcare.

Much has been debated concerning the challenges facing the Health Services. The post war enthusiasms of Aneurin Bevan's dream, brought to life on 5 July 1948, has seen the National Health Service grow exponentially.

The NHS is envied by many, passionately led by hardworking staff and challenged each winter. There will always be a never ending supply of patients and a limitless number of scientific solutions to health problems - if we just view health as a something that we can fix. Sure... we have to 'fix' in our hospitals but we must also attend to wellbeing, nurture the spirit and enable our communities and hospitals to flourish.

How can we encompass concepts of wellbeing into the scientific, the clinical world of evidence-based medicine where anything is possible and new solutions to longevity and fixing worn out bodies are seemingly never ending? Where can we explore the innovation for both the patient and hospital to flourish? What can the liberal arts - in a values-led University offer - on the wards in a district hospital environment? Some of those questions are beginning to be answered in an exciting collaboration between the University and the Hospital Trust.

Hampshire Collaboration for Health Research and Education (HCHRE)

Monday 19 February 2018 is an important day at the University of Winchester. It is a celebration - the signing of a document by the Vice Chancellor and the Chief Executive of the Hampshire Hospital Foundation Trust.

We have been close neighbours for years with shared boundaries and common academic territories. Five years in gestation, this moment marks the beginning of the formalisation of a unique collaboration between the University of Winchester and the Trust which we hope will provide the opportunities for staff and students of both institutions to truly flourish and celebrate wellbeing and to share and learn from each other. The Centre for Arts as Wellbeing is one aspect of the work already progressing within the collaboration that seeks to bring the arts into healthcare.

The Centre for Arts as Wellbeing

Since 2014, the Centre for Arts as Wellbeing has been working with artists and the NHS to develop innovative approaches to wellbeing within the hospital trust, the GP surgery and the community.

At the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester, an initial pilot study using music making was led by viola player Neil Valentine. The ten-week programme on an acute ward for those with dementia, showed promising results prompting a search for National Institute of Health Research funding to explore the work in more depth. It is a challenge.

The gold standard of research within the paradigm of a science based health system is the randomised controlled trial and yet for those with life limiting diseases such as Alzheimer's, attention can also focus on assessing and supporting the quality of care within the hospital environment. We recognise the challenge and are beginning to understand and define more coherently, some of the processes and skills required of musicians and artists working on the hospital ward.

HCHRE - Flourishing Innovation

We have seen the Hospital Trust support the innovative work of Hoodwink Theatre a remarkable, light and yet startling intervention that seems to lift the spirits of staff and patients across all wards: "That was amazing. You never expect to see that in a hospital."

It is not just about qualitative research and soft interventions - we can get hard-nosed as well. We are developing a means of measuring a 'music medicine' based approach to support those living with chronic pain. We are thinking about prevention and how theatre and the performance arts can communicate difficult health issues, encourage a change in lifestyle and enable our communities to take charge of their own wellbeing.

The Centre is but one part of the Hampshire Collaboration for Health Research and Education and across all the faculties there is a growing portfolio of innovative research and knowledge exchange with the Hospital Trust.

To close on my artistic health theme, it is our hope that this collaboration will provide the opportunity to appoint an Arts Co-ordinator within the Hospital Trust to oversee further projects. The signing event will be fittingly serenaded by our University musicians Neil Valentine and guitarist Chris Nicholson.

The Aesthetic may yet be able to thrive!


The photo above shows University of Winchester musician Neil Valentine - Arts and Dementia, 2015

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