Matt Hancock, the former culture secretary recently promoted to lead the Department of health, has endorsed the idea of using arts interventions when treating mental health patients instead of prescribing medication.
Hancock was culture secretary from January 2018 until earlier this month, and before that held a ministerial position within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. He was appointed to replace Jeremy Hunt as health secretary in this month’s cabinet reshuffle . And was succeeded by Jeremy Wright  as culture secretary.
Now, he has promised to set aside funding to help areas set up social prescribing schemes, which enable GPs to recommend methods such as arts engagement, volunteering, sports and gardening when treating patients with mental health problems.
Social prescribing is intended to reduce the strain on primary care by encouraging the use of alternative, holistic treatments, particularly in mental health cases and when social or emotional factors are affecting a person’s health.
Speaking to the Times , Hancock said: “Evidence has shown the potential benefits of approaches like social prescribing, which addresses people’s physical and mental well-being and has been shown to both improve patients’ quality of life and reduce pressure on other NHS services.”
He said he would allocate £4.5 million to set up pilot social prescribing schemes, as a commitment towards using preventative approaches and reducing “the over prescription of unsophisticated drugs”.
Hancock’s comments come as new research points towards GPs’ willingness to develop the use of arts on prescription and other such measures within the UK healthcare system.
A survey of 1,200 GPs, commissioned by arts-in-health charity Aesop, found two thirds agreed that public engagement with the arts can make a significant contribution towards preventing ill health among the public.
Forty-four percent also agreed that arts interventions can be a cost-effective way to deliver primary care and improve health outcomes.
Aesop chief executive Tim Joss said the results fuelled the organisation’s determination to break through in this area and to “create national arts programmes which can improve the health of the national and the NHS workforce”.
Mags Patten, executive director for public policy and communication at Arts Council England, added: “It’s great to see this research showing that GPs recognise the idea that arts and cultural experiences can transform our quality of life and affect our well-being.”