York artists Dan Savage and Griselda Goldsbrough know first-hand the impact that the arts can have in hospital wards. They tell Laura Reid how it benefits staff and patients.
Diagnosed with testicular cancer whilst studying at university, Dan Savage’s treatment would lead him down a path which for the past 14 years has seen him produce artwork for healthcare settings up and down the country.
From glass art in a mental health hospital to memory-jogging murals for a dementia care facility, his projects have seen him work with hundreds of staff, patients and visitors, including in the city he calls his home.
“Hospital art is not as some people might think, an optional extra,” the York-based artist says. “It actually does improve a patient’s wellbeing and reduces stress.”
Savage was 20 and in his second year of a Fine Art degree when he underwent treatment at what he describes as a “tired” hospital ward in Leeds.
“This was before the Bexley Wing (home to the Leeds Cancer Centre) was built,” he says, “and the wards were very plain and clinical. It was easy to feel a bit sorry for myself.”
Towards the end of his chemotherapy, Savage was introduced to the Teenage Cancer Trust and became involved in some of the charity’s campaigns.
After finishing his degree - and a subsequent Master’s in Glass - and setting up in business as a freelance artist focusing on public art, he secured his first healthcare commission for the trust’s ward in the new Bexley Wing.
“This made me realise how important the healing environment is,” he says. “And as I began to research the field, I found such compelling evidence to suggest how art can improve patient outcomes that I resolved to pursue it actively and make the experience of those in hospital more positive.”
Savage creates art for civic buildings, churches and schools, as well as illustrations for children’s literature, but from just a few years into his practice, around 90 per cent of his work has been for the NHS and private healthcare sites.
At his local health trust - the York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust - Savage has been involved in creating a calming design for a bereavement suite and mortuary viewing area and more recently has produced art for a £10m endoscopy unit that opened in York last year.
“Art has a huge impact on calming patients and visitors and creating a beautiful working environment for staff,” he says.
“There is an abundance of research, particularly coming from the US and Sweden, which shows how art in healthcare environments, especially that which incorporates elements of nature or local familiar scenes, can reduce anxiety, stress and even pain in people from all backgrounds, by providing positive distractions.
“Two studies in particular point to the ability of art to reduce blood pressure and even contribute to shorter hospital stays.”
“Increasingly, hospital chiefs across the globe are recognising the incredible benefits that art can bring,” he adds.
In the UK, an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing conducted a two-year inquiry into practice and research in the arts in health and social care, starting in 2015.
A report on its findings in July 2017 said visual and performing arts in healthcare environments helped to reduce sickness, anxiety and stress.
It added that art therapies, including drama, music and visual arts activities, had been found to increase resilience and wellbeing and helped people to recover from brain injury.
Towards the end of last year, the World Health Organisation launched a report exploring the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and wellbeing.
Its findings suggested arts can support end-of-life care, help people with neurological disorders, support people experiencing mental illness and assist in the care of people with acute conditions by improving the experience and outcomes for hospital inpatients.
“The reports validate the work we are doing,” says Griselda Goldsbrough, Art and Design Development Manager at the York NHS Trust.
“It’s really useful for us to be able to share them to show what we are doing really helps healthcare, with a more holistic approach. We believe it is an integral part of people’s care.”
The trust, which provides healthcare for people living in York, Scarborough, Bridlington, Selby and Malton, is celebrating 20 years of arts being used in its hospitals.
In 1999, Hospital Arts for North East Yorkshire led the way in arts provision in health facilities on the county’s coast and this was later followed by the Arts in York Hospital initiative.
Nowadays the trust has a small arts team, which develops and manages programmes under two key themes, with funding from external organisations and the York Teaching Hospital Charity.
The first theme - connect - is about providing creative projects to promote patient recovery, staff wellbeing and visitor experience. It includes participatory dance, music, writing and theatre, as well as visual arts projects.
“It’s about little magical moments and positive changes,” says Goldsbrough, also a freelance artist. “We might have somebody that has not had movement or speech in the stroke ward for example but then they are foot-tapping or shaking a tambourine because of the power of music.”
“It always moves me,” she adds. “It’s a real privilege to see how arts can benefit patients.”
The second theme - take notice - is about improving the working environment for staff and developing spaces to support reflection and healing for visitors and patients.
The team works with community organisations, staff and local artists to decorate indoor and outdoor spaces with artwork and to stage exhibitions in wards, corridors and waiting areas.
And, when there’s newbuild projects, artwork and arts provision is taken into account.
“It’s food for the soul, having that art in what is seen as a clinical ward,” Goldsbrough says. And she has first-and experience.
When her sister was receiving treatment for cancer at a hospital in Newcastle, she says hospital artwork became a distraction for her family and an opportunity for reflection.
Prints of the Newcastle landscape on curtains around her sister’s bed and poetry on waiting room walls sparked conversation.
“The many of us who have experienced hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, waiting rooms, care homes and similar will know of the tiny touches that bring the greatest comfort,” she later wrote.
“A kind word, a painting, a drawing, or a poem which connects with the space, time and freedom that seems to be taken from us. Art, landscapes and words become very much part of the journey.”