Restorative Routines

Social prescribing: The power of art in health

Early on in the pandemic I treated a gentleman in his 80s who had recovered from Covid-19. But despite recovering, and not having much in the way of lingering physical symptoms, he told me he just ‘didn’t feel right’. 

On further exploration, it turned out he thought he was going to die. 

That was the message he had understood from all the media he had been exposed to: that old people die from Covid-19. He had prepared to die, made sure his affairs were in order and felt ready. Once he was better though, he didn’t feel like himself anymore. Actually, what had happened is that he had lost his sense of purpose, and felt disconnected. 

When that happens to a person, it’s not pharmaceuticals that are needed. Although medicines can help us live longer, they often don’t create a feeling of being alive – that vitality we should all have.  This is where social prescribing comes into its own.

The power of social prescribing

As you may already know, my role during the Covid-19 pandemic was to be the medical lead for our health board’s temporary field hospital – and this man inspired me to improve my holistic care of patients with this new, unknown infection. I realised that I needed to help my patient evoke emotions, thoughts, memories and feelings. 

I needed to help him reconnect to society. 

This is the power of social prescribing: doctors prescribing community groups, activities, hobbies, mindfulness, meditation and exercise. This patient in particular enjoyed art, and told me how he felt when he looked at a particular painting of his. 

That was my lightbulb moment. This was an opportunity to bring a holistic approach to caring for patients and to shine a spotlight on the talents of other people in our community who improve people’s wellbeing. 

Art can be a powerful part of rehabilitation for the mind, body and spirit.

Fortunately, we have a fantastic Arts in Health team, who were keen to help develop my vision. They ran with it with such enthusiasm – and it was so helpful to me to feel their support. They shared their talent and turned an idea into a beautiful (and colorful!) reality. The artists volunteered their time to create wall murals designed to evoke positivity and happiness. They are a real wellbeing boost.

The National Museum of Wales have also been extremely generous in donating a collection of art from across the Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board area. 

Our aim is to create:

An interactive art gallery, where patients can walk for physical rehabilitation, while the paintings trigger memories and emotions for mind and spirit rehabilitation. 

Interactive sessions with patients. Our Arts in Health team and the art curators at the museum will also run interactive sessions with patients to support them in appreciating the art, and we plan on hosting art therapy classes for both patients and staff. 

An outdoor mindful art trail in the holistic garden space. We all know that spending time connecting to nature and breathing in fresh air is a simple and effective wellbeing boost. We have been very fortunate to have received recycled benches and chairs from plastic waste. They are beautiful in black and very comfortable. (A few of us on the team are eco warriors, and keen on focusing on the environmental factors and sustainability of healthcare.)

Creating an environment that supports wellness and healing

The combination of world class NHS care and the skills and talent of artists is a powerful force that can empower patients in their own journey to wellness. We can aim for a bespoke service for each patient that connects them to what makes them feel good emotionally, as well as physically.

We are creating an environment that supports wellness and healing. (Enough of the clinical white walls and more colour from now on, please!)