Britain should harness music, culture to improve the nation's health

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Britain should follow the Chinese philosopher Confucius and harness music and culture to improve the nation's health, government health secretary Matt Hancock said Tuesday.

Making a key-note speech to the London-based health think-tank, the King's Fund, Hancock described arts and social activities as life-enhancing.

Britain, he said, is to create a National Academy for Social Prescribing to be the champion and setting out the benefits of social prescribing across the board, from the arts to physical exercise, to nutritional advice and community classes.

"You might get by in a world without the arts, but it isn't a world that any of us would choose to live in," he said, adding: "As the great Chinese philosopher Confucius said: Music produces a kind of pleasure, which human nature cannot do without."

Hancock said: "Music and the arts aren't just the foods of love. We shouldn't only value them for the role they play in bringing meaning and dignity to our lives. We should value the arts and social activities because they're essential to our health and wellbeing."

He said Britain needs to find how it can harness the incredible power of the arts and social activities to improve the nation's health and wellbeing.

Family doctors are being encouraged to adopt social prescribing to help shape Britain's health and social care system in the future.

Hancock said a recent All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing found arts and social activities can help keep people well, aid our recovery, and support longer lives better lived. It can also help meet major challenges facing health and social care, ageing, loneliness, mental health, and other long-term conditions.

Hancock cited one example in which a collaboration between Britain's famous Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a stroke recovery service, used music sessions to help people after they'd had a stroke.

Through learning to play instruments and eventually performing as part of an orchestra, nearly 90 percent of stroke patients felt better.

In Lambeth, in south London, another project used dance as an early intervention against psychosis in young people.

Hancock said hospitals in Gloucestershire are sending patients with lung conditions to singing sessions. The singing helps people, even with chronic lung conditions.

One music therapy charity is helping children with autism communicate, while singing helps people with dementia feel less anxious, and provides comfort to people facing terminal illness. Last year the charity helped almost 8,000 people.

Hancock said: "Those are some of the examples of how the arts have benefited health. And we must remember this is still a very new medical field."

He added: "This is a challenge we have to overcome with arts and health and social prescribing. The arts are for everyone. Taking part. Having a go. Dusting off forgotten skills, or learning new ones.

"I see social prescribing as fundamental to prevention. And I see prevention as fundamental to the future of the NHS. For too long we've been fostering a culture that's popping pills, when what we should be doing is more prevention and perspiration."

He said social prescribing can help combat over-medicalizing people, dishing out drugs when it isn't what's best for the patient.

"I see social prescribing growing in importance, becoming an indispensable tool for doctors, just like a thermometer or a stethoscope may be seen today," said Hancock.

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