AHSW's Director, Trustees, and Members reflect on various aspects of arts, health and wellbeing.

Wellbeing Again

AHSW Director, Alex Coulter, gives her thoughts on last week’s roundtable jointly hosted by Arts, Health and Wellbeing and the APPG on Wellbeing in the House of Lords.

The context was the Care Act 2014 which will come into force on April 1st 2015 and requires Local Authorities to place wellbeing at the heart of commissioning services. The aim was to inform the development of Practice Guidance for the Care Act to support Local Authorities in commissioning arts and culture for health and wellbeing outcomes.
Invited guests brought to bear commissioner, provider and research perspectives. We heard from the former Director of Public Health in Dudley, whose 2013 Annual Report makes a coherent argument for embedding arts in the planning and commissioning cycles and for the potential of the arts to engage, inspire and involve people. The CEO of South West Yorkshire NHS Trust talked passionately about their Creative Minds programme that involves over 70 partnerships with arts and community organisations including the Hepworth Wakefield and Yorkshire Sculpture Park as well as drop-in sessions led by people who use their mental health services. The Director of Health and Adult Social Care at the Royal Borough of Greenwich shared his thoughts on the fluid situation with commissioning and the future personalization of care and budgets. Dr Justin Varney, National Lead for Adult Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, gave us an update on their current review of the evidence base on arts, health and wellbeing and indicated a wider commitment to supporting arts and cultural organisations to deliver health and wellbeing, through on-going conversations with Arts Council England and the Cultural Commissioning programme. The officers of the APPG on Arts, Health and Wellbeing will be meeting Justin again in December to discuss the Practice Guidance.

The recently published NHS Five Year Forward View argues for the prioritisation of wellbeing and the prevention of ill-health. Definitions of wellbeing can still dominate conversations. In my last blog I wrote about the CMO’s annual report where she urged us take the lead from WHO and frame the subject as mental health promotion and mental illness and prevention. There was an interesting WHO webinar on wellbeing on Friday and much talk about progress on wellbeing globally, how in some places ‘resilience’ is better understood, that definitions can be expressions of power and vulnerable to translation and that we have to pay attention to the translation of new ideas. A German academic on the panel said there is no word for wellbeing in German and a Russian translator piped up from the floor with the comment that in Russian the various words one might use for ‘challenge’ are wholly negative and that a positive concept of challenge just doesn’t exist in their culture! The panel’s main message was that governments need wellbeing indicators and practical guidance on how to deliver it. One of the places that is attracting attention is Alaska. The Family Wellness Warrior Initiative focuses on problems with domestic violence, abuse and neglect. The success of their approach led to a whole system change for healthcare services which has been championed by Don Berwick, an adviser to Obama and now advising the UK on the NHS. It is being looked at as a model in Scotland and Dr Malcolm Rigler drew my attention to this lecture: The Possible Scot: Realising Scotland’s potential for wellbeing and recovery

A welcome interjection in the evidence base debate at the APPG Roundtable came from Professor Paul Dieppe, a distinguished medical doctor and Medical Humanities academic at Exeter University. He said that the science of evaluation has a great ability to obscure the bleedin’ obvious and that a lot of this is about the bleedin’ obvious. He also took us back to Aristotle and his concept of ‘flourishing’: everybody should try to live to the best of their capabilities for the sake of the community and that human interactions and community are part of flourishing. It isn’t such a new idea if Aristotle thought of it. Both wellbeing and flourishing have been in our language since the 16th century. We are very pleased that Paul Dieppe has agreed to be a trustee of Arts & Health South West!

Alexandra Coulter
Director, Arts & Health South West

November 2014

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