New report confirms creative health could help NHS health and social care systems

Creative Health Review Front Cover includes Creative Health illustration by David Shrigley

Today, Wednesday 6 December, the National Centre for Creative Health and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing have published a major report, the Creative Health Review: How Policy Can Embrace Creative Health, evidencing that creative health needs to form an integral part of a 21st-century health and social care system to reduce health inequalities, increase life expectancy and build social capital.

Creative Health – defined as creative approaches which have benefits for our health and wellbeing, and can include activities such as visual and performing arts, literature, or creative activities in nature as well as innovative approaches to health and care services
– is shown to help prevent ill-health and support the management of long-term conditions, offering patients effective, non-clinical approaches that reduce reliance on healthcare services and result in cost savings, as well as improving quality of life. The Creative Health Review outlines the immense benefits of creative health and advocates for its immediate, widespread adoption.

The report makes crucial recommendations to support the UK Government, elected mayors and policymakers in maximising the potential of creative health, with a dedicated cross-departmental Creative Health Strategy at the centre.

“We want government to recognise that creative health should be part of the bigger picture not just for health and social care, but across a wide range of its responsibilities including education, justice, levelling up and the economy. Creative health isn't limited to one sector; it's about working together.” - said The Rt Hon. Lord Howarth of Newport CBE, Chair of the National Centre for Creative Health and Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing

The report demonstrates, through growing evidence and by showcasing innovative approaches and activities, that creative health proactively prevents illness, promotes wellbeing, and helps to manage long-term conditions.

It outlines the profound significance of creative health in addressing the formidable challenges our health and social care systems face, and shows where creative health can assist. The prevalence of mental ill health in children and young people is worryingly high, and mental health conditions are causing more adults than ever to be unable to work. Health inequalities are among the worst in Europe and the gap is widening, with life expectancy falling in some of the poorest areas of the country. These issues should be addressed as a matter of social justice, but there are also broader implications for the economy, through increased costs to the health and welfare system and a loss of productivity. The report sets out a roadmap for policymakers to provide a more creative and healthier future for all. These challenges demand a new approach. One that is forward-thinking, preventative and person-centred.

“Our western approach to health is dominated by sickness with the assumption that health is the absence of ill-health, not needing attention or resources. But health is always a combination of physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing, all of which should be nurtured and encouraged.

“There is overwhelming evidence that engagement with creative activity can do much to heal mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, as well as countering loneliness. A government that embraces this is itself being creative as well as contributing responsible, practical measures to reduce the impossible costs of ill-health.”
Monty Don OBE Garden writer and broadcaster. Creative Health Review Commissioner

The case studies in the report show how creative health can reduce pressure on health and social care services both by preventing the onset of ill health and by supporting the management of long-term conditions, offering patients effective, non-clinical approaches that reduce reliance on healthcare services and result in cost savings. For example, 96% of participants in Gloucestershire’s Artlift Living Well with Chronic Pain creative programme in 2022-23 reported a statistically meaningful improvement in general wellbeing and there was an average 16% increase in ability to self-manage pain.

The report examines successful models across the UK where partnerships between arts, health, social care and education are yielding positive results without high costs.

The Rt Hon. Lord Howarth of Newport CBE, continues:
“Creative health demands effective and sustainable partnerships across government, including local authorities, healthcare systems, grassroots organisations, and the cultural and VCSE sectors.

“Many of the policy opportunities to secure the benefits of creative health are devolved to combined authorities, and this allows Metro Mayors to use their local powers to integrate creative health into their strategies to improve population health. For example, in Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire we are seeing admirable partnerships emerging with creative health as key in a whole system approach to improving personal and community wellbeing, resilience, and social connection.

“Our ambition is for creative health to be integral to health, social care and wider systems, including education. I look forward to creativity being recognised by the general public, healthcare professionals and policymakers as a resource to support health and wellbeing across the life course, and its benefits being accessible to all.”

Read the Report in full here.