Dr Susan Rankine has thirty years of experience as a general practitioner mainly working in the NHS. Victoria Medical Centre has been a partner of Paintings in Hospitals since 2007. Here Susan tells us about the importance of art in care and the benefits of working with Paintings in Hospitals...

It’s been 150 years since Florence Nightingale observed that objects can help the healing process. The tireless healer scribbled in her Notes on Nursing in 1859 that ‘the variety of form and colour in the objects presented to patients have a physical effect and are actual means of recovery.’ More than a century and a half later, hospitals are, by medical and technological standards, worlds apart from those that Nightingale would have known.

In terms of ‘variety of form’, however, change is very slow and she would probably feel quite at home marching between the anaemic walls of many of today’s wards. But one charity has spent decades improving health and social care environments for the benefit of patients, carers and the public.

Paintings in Hospitals has been exhibiting artworks in hospitals, surgeries and care facilities since 1959 and was one of the first organisations to promote the inclusion of art as a valuable element to creating a successful healing environment.

The charity has an exceptional art collection of over 3,800 works and implements creative activities in care facilities across the country. Every year, the work of Paintings in Hospitals provides support to over one million people in the hospitals, hospices, care homes, GP surgeries, cancer centres, alternative therapy centres and special needs schools.

Contrary to what the name suggests, the Paintings in Hospitals collection is not confined to paintings alone but includes prints, drawings, textiles, mixed media and photographic works, many of which are by some of the world’s most significant artists. The charity’s collection has been carefully curated over many years for the specific purpose of helping to reduce sickness, anxiety and stress.

The connection between the arts and wellbeing is not new. The ancient Greeks saw a clear link between art and healing: they believed that being in contact with statues and mosaics could heal the mind and body.

In Britain, there have been initiatives to introduce the visual arts into medical environments for a long time. William Hogarth painted a large mural in 1735 in St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. During Victorian times, there were attempts to brighten up some hospitals with works of art, such as the decorative tiles at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

But it is really since the 1980s that the links between art and health have been seriously explored. Today a growing number of patients, service users, care professionals, researchers, policymakers, architects and planners recognise that the arts are integral to health.

There is now an overwhelming body of evidence demonstrating that participating in the arts and having access to a range of art opportunities can dramatically improve the wellbeing of people who experience mental or physical health problems.

In 2004, Dr Rosalia Staricoff published A Study of the Effects of Visual and Performing Arts in Healthcare for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital as a result of a three-year research project. The clinical study concluded that placing original artworks within the healthcare environment helped to: reduce levels of anxiety, stress and depression; reduce patients' length of stay within the hospital; reduce the use of some medications; and increase staff morale.

Additional studies, such as Bedminster Practice published in the British Journal of General Practice, show that an enhanced environment is associated with improvements in patients' perception of patient–doctor communication and an increase in patient and staff satisfaction.

On a personal note, the patients and staff at Victoria Medical Centre, a large GP practice in central London with nearly 14,000 registered patients, have benefitted hugely over the last seven years from the art loaned to us by Paintings in Hospitals. We have fourteen works – some by emerging artists and some by artists such as Mary Feddon and Patrick Heron. When we designed our new premises, we wanted to make the communal areas modern, friendly and interesting so that patients coming to the doctor felt welcome and cared for. There is no doubt that the art enhances the clinical surroundings and helps to alleviate anxiety particularly at times of stress. The staff often say that the paintings create a feeling of calmness during a hectic day. We are very grateful to Paintings in Hospitals for enabling us to have such wonderful paintings on display.

Next time you’re in your local hospital, health centre, surgery or care service as a patient or a visitor or even  a worker, take a look at the artworks on display. Who knows, you might experience the healing presence of art.

Find out more about Paintings in Hospitals' art for health and social care…

60 years of Paintings in Hospitals

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