Last November I participated in an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Round Table at the Houses of Parliament looking at the arts in Palliative Care, Dying and Bereavement.
Standing on the windy gangway waiting to be checked in, dwarfed by the towering palace and stone and bronze statues, I felt excited and intrigued. Jane Moss and I had met up beforehand. We ran through points we hoped to make (and had a few laughs to dispel nerves), before entering the main hall. After taking photos, reading quotes on the colourful banners depicting political movements, and noting the plaque on the floor where Nelson Mandela once stood, we found our way through the central lobby, familiar from news on TV, into a quaint wood-framed lift, which took us up to the committee room.
Over the last decade I have worked with people in the NHS and complementary care facing the end of life who have found strength and vitality in creative reflective writing. I had conducted an audit of feedback from writing sessions in the hospital I work in which gives a clear picture of the benefits people identify, clustered in themes. I planned to mention these, while raising some thoughts on further joining up arts with healthcare, not just in healthcare settings, but in the wider community. An integrative model is the way forward it seems to me. I am pleased to be part of a new initiative in Bristol promoting this.
Lord Howarth of Newport (you may remember he defected from Conservative to Labour and was then Minister of the Arts in the 90s) gave a warm welcome. Baroness Ilora Finlay chaired the meeting, giving insight into her work as professor of palliative care in Cardiff. Around the table were people from arts, medical and political arenas. Each contributor spoke for three minutes – you can read the contributions and the meeting minutes here: http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg/Arts%20and%20Palliative%20Care%20Dying%20and%20Bereavement
All the talks were fascinating. Kate Organ of Baring Foundation made a comment that resonated with me:
We need to define ‘art’ and one of the things that makes it different is its ability to hold a meaning beyond the literal, to resonate in different space and time.
She said that the Baring Foundation is interested in cost-effectiveness and making projects happen, not so much the research data but getting the arts to happen where they are effective. The question of evidence is always a hot potato, and it was encouraging to hear this pragmatic approach from such an influential organization. Bob Heath, who works for Maggie’s Centres, talked about language use and the values of singing. Iona Heath, GP, spoke up for cultural literacy for medical students, to counter exclusive focus on science from a young age. Jane Moss commented on how writing can contribute to bereavement support and how it can enable people to adjust to life without the one who had died. Alan Kellehear pointed out that most of the experience of dying is done outside healthcare, so a public health strategy focused on prevention and harm reduction, community participation, public education, and making the social and physical environment conducive to caring for people, has to be a priority.
The idea of the APPG is that these forums will inform research over the next two years, and influence policy decisions. Keep an eye on the website for further developments.
About the APPG
The APPG was launched in January 2014. Peers and MPs with a shared interest in the field of arts and health come together for regular events to hear about and discuss the latest developments relevant to current policy priorities. The secretariat for the APPG is provided by the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, supported by LAHF. In November 2015 the APPG launched a two year Arts, Health and Wellbeing Inquiry in collaboration with King’s College London and in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’s Charity and the Royal Society for Public Health Special Interest Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing.
Co-Chairs: Rt Hon. Lord Howarth of Newport CBE; Jason McCartney MP
Vice-Chair: Rt Hon. Fiona Mactaggart MP
Treasurer: Maggie Throup MP
Alex Coulter, Director of Arts & Health South West, manages the APPG secretariat.