Sheffield Arts and Wellbeing Network

Today I attended the launch of the Sheffield Arts and Wellbeing Network. As Shadow Minister for the Arts, I was delighted to speak at the event. My speech is below:

Britain more than ever survives and prospers by the talent and health of its people.

Investment in human capital: to allow people to innovate, to create, to think anew and be creative is fundamental to human development and unlocking potential.

Plays, poetry, books, films, art, design and crafts can all support innovation, thinking, reflection, creativity and help inspire individuals.

Through this process people develop; we come together; we see things differently; we understand where others come from; and when at our most vulnerable, arts and creativity helps us to heal and to cope – to live life even when we feel there is no hope.

So, we are here today hoping to help the 2 year old child who refuses to eat and talk after the death of her mother, the teenage boy who becomes seriously withdrawn during his father’s death in hospital, the successful middle age business person who is unable to cope with bouts of depression and the elderly couple suffering from dementia, unable to access the services they need.

That is why we are here today; in that we hold dear the belief that the mark of society is how it treats and protects citizens – when they are at their most vulnerable and that bringing people together, facilitating connections and accessing art and culture lifts our spirits.

It’s these principles, that nobody is left out, or written off that underpinned the creation of the N-H-S and the notion of ‘One Nation’.

Disraeli first coined the term ‘One Nation’ in 1872 to address the issue of sanitation and called upon Britain to rise to the challenge of public health - because it was in everyone’s interests.

It took 70 years and a great reforming Labour Government to rise to the task and establish the NHS.

An NHS that since 1997 has reduced waiting times and improved access to primary care, reduced variation in access to drugs and treatment, reduced MRSA and C.Difficile infection rates and sustained reductions in deaths due to cancer and cardiovascular disease as well as reducing the rates of smoking.

It is in this vein that Ed Miliband recently called for a similar reforming approach to mental Health in the 21st Century. This means changing the way we do things in our country, to improve lives, break taboos, build consensus and deploy all of our resources: human, economic and social capital for a truly ‘One Nation’ solution.

It is why today and within this context that I want to talk about the current health and wellbeing challenges we face and where we can direct our focus and energies to change the way we do things.

The 2010 Marmot Review showed that serious health inequalities exist in this country. Two years later, life expectancy is still increasing but health inequalities are widening between the highest and lowest social positions in society.

A position that will not be improved without wholesale change and moving from targeted intervention to addressing all social determinates of health.

Today, we also have a health and social care system that is increasingly fragmented and is struggling to cope with the demands placed upon it. Recent images screened by a BBC Panorama Investigation into the Winterbourne View showed the extent of the problem with patients being slapped, pinned under chairs and subjected to cold showers as punishment that directly led to six former staff being convicted of neglect and ill treatment.

The pressures throughout the system are continuing to build and are not going away: we see increased hospital activity; longer emergency waiting times; fewer resources alongside greater expectations from the public.

Front line staff are feeling overwhelmed, over worked and underappreciated. All the while, the system reinforces the problem; the more tests and services are provided, the more money we pay – it’s a model that rewards quantity rather than the quality of care.

And whilst we await the Francis report into the failure at Mid Staffordshire, we know from more than 30 public inquiries that have been conducted to address catastrophic failures in patient care that isolation, poor collaboration and a lack of patient focus have been at the heart of the problem.

We have also increasingly found it difficult to talk about these problems in an open, honest and thoughtful way, a point re-emphasised recently by Ed Miliband when he spoke about those suffering from mental health illness who find themselves afraid to speak out and ask for help.

All of these issues need to be addressed and we need change.

Although we are at a tipping point, we have much to build upon and Britain has previously developed different approaches towards improving population health. As Shadow Culture Minister, I am seized by the role that Culture – the Arts, can play in the context of health and general well-being.

It was Adrian Hill who is generally acknowledged as coining the term ‘art therapy’ and was, during World War 1, an official artist on the western front.

His paintings and sketches from that time are still shown in the Imperial War Museum today. In 1938, whilst convalescing from tuberculosis, he passed the time by drawing objects from his hospital bed and found this process helpful in his own recovery.

As he states ‘the value lay in completely engrossing the mind, as well as the fingers in releasing creative energy which built up a strong defense against the misfortune suffered.’

After the Second World War, Edward Adamson joined Adrian Hill and spread this practice to other mental health institutions as part of a nationwide programme with the British Red Cross. He was the first artist employed by the NHS with an annual salary of £1,000 that never increased with inflation – something that is all too familiar today!

Now, Art therapy is employed in many different settings from general illness to supporting and helping people with cancer, through to disaster relief and bereaved children with some wonderful results.

Allied to these developments, we now see other forms of art and culture utilised to improve health outcomes such as crafts to help the long term unemployed, promoting reading clubs to reduce rural isolation among vulnerable adults and challenging teenage behavior through combining music, film, graphics and lighting effects.

I think instinctively many of us understand the value of the Arts in the context of well-being; the power of the Arts to impact on people’s lives; to effect change to make a difference.

Whilst not strictly in the context of well-being I am reminded that a few days before he was assassinated John F Kennedy gave a remarkable speech at the arts college in Amhurst, Massachusetts.

Modern US politicians run a mile from the tag of intellectualism – and Mitt Romney reminds us of this! So any form of association with the Arts is unusual. Yet Kennedy, speaking in memory of the poet Robert Frost who had died earlier that year, took as his theme the ‘full recognition of the place of the artist.’

His speech contained the following lines:

“When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truth which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.”

So I believe it is right that the new National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing brings together a single voice so these projects can be supported, developed and allows innovation as seen in the development of art therapy.A key part of the solution is how we address the challenges of public health. For too long, health and social care in this country has been focused at the point illness happens and not on proactively stopping it in the first place. We need more programmes and initiatives in place, like those highlighted today for preventative care so that we can avoid illness and disease in the first place.

For example, in Somerset and Bridgwater, Barnados is building on the legacy of Hill and Adamson by providing specialist individual psychotherapy and play therapy; working together with local government, health, education and social services.

This inclusivity and cooperation is helping real lives: ‘Amy’ who is 12 years old and lost her mother last year, found it difficult to talk, felt lonely and isolated, but since attending the group sessions has been able to manage her emotions, share, express her feelings and in so doing has found some level of peace.

As she says ‘I now feel relaxed and can cry about it – it’s a relief.’ Although disease prevention is critical, so is disease management. In the 21st century, the central goal in healthcare must be to improve the health of the patient.

This means organising around the patients’ medical condition rather than delivering care by outdated systems, practices and payment methods. We need one system, not three and we must oppose privitisation that leads to fragmentation between local government, social care, and mental health.

We also need to have the confidence in local delivery. This means empowering individuals and the local community, with coordinated action from a multitude of organisations and collaboration between central and local government to reduce health equity.

That’s why it is so refreshing to hear today that here in Sheffield this is happening: charities, health providers, local government and education establishments working as one – recognising the need to work together, integrating and combing resources and knowledge so people can access arts and culture and benefit from those programmes offered.

This demand is not only coming from those expert in the field, it is also increasingly demanded by patients that want to take control of their lives, keen to understand what services are on offer, how to access them and increasing how to support initiatives that our close to their heart.

We must recognize this need and ensure information is accessible to all, utilising a range of mediums and be relentless in spreading the message.

Howard Winters (an American Archaeologist) said that

“Civilization is the process in which one gradually increases the number of people included in the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ and at the same time decreases those labeled ‘you’ or ‘them’ until that category has no one left in it.”

Last month, Ed Miliband reinforced the absolute need to bring people together under ‘One Nation’, to breakdown the fear of those seeking help and to ensure that the services we provide cater for their needs. He believes, like I do in the ‘we’ or ‘us’, not in the ‘you’ or ‘them’. It’s the sort of programmes, networks and cooperation that we have heard today that breaks down these barriers and brings us together.

So we believe in you, we support the work you are doing and we know it will make a big difference.

Thank You.

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