Hospital-based Arts on Prescription Programme supports patients to better self-manage chronic conditions

A recent evaluation of Fresh Arts on Referral, a pilot arts on prescription programme at Southmead Hospital Bristol, has shown that patients with a range of chronic conditions have gained renewed confidence, agency and motivation to better look after their wellbeing after taking part in a six-week arts workshop programme.

People can feel isolated and overwhelmed following diagnosis of a chronic condition. The weight of a diagnosis, along with the symptoms of a condition, can feel debilitating.


“I felt like I’d hit a brick wall”


Fresh Arts on Referral was set up to explore whether Social Prescribing, well-established in primary care, might support hospital patients with chronic conditions to improve wellbeing through better self-management of a condition. The programme is thought to be the first of its kind in an acute setting.


“Even though we’re all down with pain we’ve all created a happy moment”


Fresh Arts on Referral was developed and managed by Fresh Arts, the arts programme of North Bristol NHS Trust, in collaboration with arts and healthcare consultants Willis Newson. It was funded by North Bristol NHS Trust and Southmead Hospital Charity, Macmillan Cancer Support, and Arts Council England.


 “This is how we’re rebuilding ourselves”


The pilot was delivered at Southmead Hospital Bristol between March – July 2018, during which 65 Cancer, Chronic Pain and Dementia patients were referred by clinicians to six-week, condition-specific arts programmes delivered by Ali Brown, Rachel Davis and Claire Williamson, artists and a writer experienced at working in healthcare settings. After taking part, patients were signposted to local, community-based groups and activities to enable them to support their wellbeing on leaving hospital.


“Really rewarding to just be me and not my condition. I’ve felt like me again”


A mixed-methods evaluation published in February 2019, was conducted by Willis Newson Director, Jane Willis. The evaluation used the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale alongside patient and stakeholder focus groups, semi-structured patient interviews and case studies.

Thematic analysis of data demonstrated that Fresh Arts on Referral proved an important and valued source of support, delivering increased self-confidence, enjoyment, connection and agency and supporting patients with chronic conditions to better self-manage conditions.

Faced with the difficulty, trauma and loss associated with a chronic condition, patients connected with others and were able to safely share their experience without fear of judgement.


“Forging friendships after all that isolation”


Taking part in creative activity enabled a shift in focus from the condition and provided a deep sense of enjoyment. It enabled participants to express themselves, experiencing freedom and release.


“Coming here was a catalyst for my creativity; a ray of light”


The process of making and sharing with others enabled participants to see that they still had much to offer and enjoy. It helped them to recognise the skills and resources they have and gave them the confidence to try new things. It helped them to focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t do.


“You need to look forward at what you can and will do – find a new path. The path is hidden in places but keep following and it will point to a new horizon and new direction”


Patients felt more empowered and positive about the future. They began to see that it might be possible to live well, even with a chronic condition.


“Life begins to look brighter and we look forward with hope”


For more information contact:

Jane Willis, Director, Willis Newson
Utility House, 3 York Court, Upper York Street, Bristol, BS2 8QF

Email: Jane[at]
Telephone: 01179 247617
Mobile: 07973 409 450


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