Thanks to the ongoing Charity support, the arts team is now celebrating its 20th anniversary. Programmes run by the arts team are not just nice to have, they can also provide vital support ahead of life-changing procedures.

Patients facing a long stay in hospital might be admitted for weeks, months or even over a year. These lengthy stays, paired with the visiting restrictions required during the pandemic, undoubtedly led to heightened feelings of anxiety, isolation and boredom. The All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry on Arts, Health and Wellbeing reports that art therapies have been found to alleviate anxiety, depression and stress while increasing resilience and wellbeing.

Since 2019, we have offered 1-1 art sessions to patients referred by staff on the wards, using funds and materials from the National Lottery Community Fund. Originally these sessions were ‘Crafternoons’ and held in groups. The goals of these 1-1 sessions are to reduce boredom, teach new skills, offer new creative outlets, promote relaxation and mindfulness, and offer non-clinical conversation.

We provide these sessions at both hospitals, working with more and more inpatients wherever there is a need. Here is Jo’s story. They took part in weekly sessions for several months during their long hospital stay. Their name has been changed to protect their anonymity.

A patient’s experience

In 2021, Jo an adult inpatient on the transplant ward at Harefield Hospital, was referred to the arts team by a senior clinical psychologist. They had already been an inpatient for over 6 months at this point, with the added stress of being in hospital during a pandemic. Transplant patients cannot leave the grounds of the hospital due to necessary equipment that delivers medication and needs topping up and charging frequently. Jo was suffering from subsequent difficulties with their mental health which were stopping them from being considered for immediate transplant. It was agreed that Jo would benefit from regular visits and artistic activities.

The sessions also became a way that clinical staff could engage in non-clinical chats with patients, providing them with conversations that distract from their condition. Staff would often pop into the art sessions to ask what was being made that day, mentioning that Jo had been discussing their artworks throughout the week, indicating a great sense of achievement and pride. This conversation has been especially important when visitors were not allowed, and clinical staff might be the only people they had to talk to.

Arts Facilitator, Rosie Watters, met with Jo for weekly art sessions in the ward day room. The facilitated sessions covered a wide variety of arts and crafts including watercolour painting, found poetry, pottery, and crochet. They would also be sent creative activities online for something to do independently every day.

This is what I’ve missed, painting and conversation. I’ve been bored out of my mind and was just so good to do something calming and different. Thank you so much.

Jo already had some basic arts equipment and a clear enthusiasm, though they had not had formal lessons before. The assortment of activities we offered meant that they could be introduced to a lot of new opportunities to be creative.

This offering of creativity and focus enabled them to overcome the stresses and difficulties that can occur while in hospital. For instance, when asked how they were at the start of one of the art sessions, they had said they were having a bad day and had earlier had a ‘a meltdown’ with staff. However, once the cubism painting had started, they seemed focused and creatively engaged, asking questions, and laughing over colour choices. In fact, they offered such engaging distraction that their mental health issues did not arise during art sessions at all. They said afterwards that this cubism painting session was their most favourite art session of all.

While making their way back to their room after the session, they showed staff their cubism portrait with a big smile and displayed the work in their room. Jo told us: “These two sessions have put a feeling of great joy in me as we were able to express the act through using a variety of colours and shapes to show a picture which has a look of openness and cubism to the design”.

When asked, Jo described the sessions as the most interesting part of their week. “A relief from sitting in my room and a great way of socialising as well as learning new skills”.

This case study discusses just one branch of a multi-disciplinary arts programme. Find out more about the arts programme here.

Moving forward

Now restrictions are easing, we hope volunteers will soon be back on site to help reach even more patients. We are proud to help patients on their road to recovery and look forward to continuing to offer quality art sessions to support wellbeing.

Thank you to Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Charity for their ongoing support. Thanks also to our volunteers, who helped us package left over materials for the 1-1 sessions on demand.

Inspired to help more patients improve their wellbeing? The arts team will welcome donations of art supplies (email [email protected]) or donate to the arts appeal below.

donate to rb&hArts