World’s largest study of the arts’ impact on health

The world’s largest study into the impact on mental and physical health that artistic interventions can have has been launched by King’s College London, with £2m funding from the Wellcome Trust.

Innovations such as singing groups to help postnatal depression, dance classes benefitting Parkinson’s sufferers and music sessions as therapy for stroke patients are to be trialled in the programme in NHS hospital and health centres.

The programme is called SHAPER – Scaling-up Health-Arts Programmes: Implementation and Effectiveness Research. “There is growing research on the impact of the arts on health” said Carmine Pariante, professor of biological psychiatry at King’s who is leading it with Dr Daisy Fancourt of UCL, with a team of artists, scientists and clinicians brought together by research manager Dr Tony Woods and arts advisor Nikki Crane.

“But more work is needed to take programmes from successful local projects with short-term funding to national programmes commissioned by the health sector” she went on. “SHAPER will see arts interventions embedded into NHS hospitals, clinics and in the community so that we can assess their effectiveness in improving the health and wellbeing of greater numbers of patients.” 

King’s will use its connections across King’s Health Partners to trial the interventions alongside Guy’s and St Thomas’s, King’s College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts, as well as community centres across Lambeth and Southwark. 

“We aim to provide the evidence needed for arts-based interventions to be embedded into NHS treatment pathways, offering effective alternatives to traditional therapies while delivering better results for patients and possible cost savings to the NHS” said Professor Sir Robert Lechler of King’s and executive director of King’s Health Partners.

Three arts interventions will be offered to patients in partnership with English National Ballet, Breathe Arts Health Research and Rosetta Life. Breathe Arts Health Research will lead the singing for postnatal depression exploration, following previous studies by Dr Fancourt and Dr Rosie Perkins, reader in performance sciences at the Royal College of Music.

“Postnatal depression is a condition for which there is currently a recognised gap in effective treatments and provision for mothers” Dr Fancourt explained. “Evidence from two years of clinical trials and mechanistic studies of singing has demonstrated the promise of community-led singing programmes as an effective and engaging intervention both for mothers’ mental health and to support the early development of their infants. This programme will allow us to further test the intervention to reach more mothers who could benefit.”

Melodies for Mums, picture by Leigha Fearon

Stroke Odysseys (main picture, Pari Naderi) is delivered by the Rosetta Life charity, initially developed and funded by King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. Stroke patients will be invited to hour-long sessions featuring movement, music, song and spoken word in the acute stroke ward at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and at community arts or rehabilitation centres, following preliminary research that has shown the sessions deliver improvements to patients’ cognition, mobility and speech, enhancing recovery and wellbeing following stroke. 

English National Ballet’s Dance for Parkinson’s is to be upscaled at King’s College Hospital, with weekly ballet classes using live music with specialist dancers and musicians. Fleur Derbyshire-Fox, English National Ballet’s Engagement Director, says: “Since creating our programme in 2010 we have seen first-hand the incredible effects dance can have on a person living with Parkinson’s” said ENB’s engagement director Fleur Derbyshire-Fox. “We’re thrilled to be a part of this study, with the opportunity to embed the programme within secondary care social prescribing, increase reach and diversity, and in turn have a greater impact on the physical and emotional wellbeing of people living with Parkinson’s.” 

Dance for Parkinson's, picture by Laurent Liotardo

“Throughout my career I’ve seen first-hand the many ways in which arts and culture enhance health and wellbeing” said the former prima ballerina Deborah Bull, who as Baroness Bull is now vice-principal at King’s. “As part of our integrated arts, health and wellbeing strategy, we have been proud to initiate and support innovative collaborations that test this proposition and help build a robust evidence base.

“The Creative Health report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health & Wellbeing, for which King’s was research partner, was a reminder of the vast range of arts in health interventions already taking place and the huge opportunities they could present, if proven at scale.”

And Philomena Gibbons, deputy director for culture and society at Wellcome, said that arts and creativity can make a significant contribution to addressing a number of pressing health issues. “But if we are to build up a good evidence base, and develop effective implementation and evaluation models, we need to enable researchers, cultural organisations and clinical care providers to explore this area on a bigger scale.

“We are delighted to be awarding this £2m funding to King’s College London and UCL for this important study and look forward to seeing it evolve in a practical and collaborative way with researchers, cultural organisations and participants all benefitting from the outcomes” she said.

To learn more visit King’s Arts, Health & Wellbeing Hub  


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