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Orchestral music is becoming a key element in healthcare provision, says report

A new report, ‘Orchestras in Healthcare’, published by Orchestras Live, the City of London Sinfonia and the Association of British Orchestras, has been endorsed by the National Academy of Social Prescribing as a way forward for both musicians and public health

Social prescribing is receiving increasing financial and structural support from the UK National Health Service and governments, both national and local, as an adjunct to traditional healthcare. The option to ‘prescribe’ patients access to arts, physical, social and other activities instead of pharmaceutical or clinical treatments is becoming the norm.

The new Orchestras in Healthcare report aims to demonstrate the role of orchestral music in improving lives and reducing health service pressures.

The report comes from analysis of a survey initiated and run by Sarah Derbyshire of Orchestras Live, Matthew Swann of the City of London Sinfonia and Fiona Harvey of the Association of British Orchestras (ABO). Designed to provide a comprehensive picture of the ways in which orchestras, including operatic ones, contribute to public health, it draws on responses from ABO member orchestras and opera companies across the UK. Geographical, financial, musical and motivational aspects of members involvement in healthcare provision were considered, showing that over half of UK orchestras are engaged in health and social care in some form, while many more wish to become so.

Many orchestras participate in activities in social care and hospitals without payment. During the pandemic, online concerts have played a powerful part in alleviating the mental and physical health problems caused by social isolation, anxiety and even domestic tension. These issues will remain long after the end of lockdown, through lost employment, for example. But the report suggests that orchestras need to be less fragile and more flexible in their business models and training to increase the benefits they offer and gain from this new purpose. And the health sector needs to value the orchestral music contribution to the nation’s health. As the report states, the orchestral community needs to strengthen ‘the business case for orchestras to engage in health and wellbeing activity.’

The Chief Executive of Arts Council England, Darren Henley OBE, commented on the report, ‘This report provides the first comprehensive picture of the impact orchestras are making in these fields and highlights the vital role they can play in alleviating some of the significant mental and physical health issues connected to Covid-19.

‘The research presents a timely opportunity to raise awareness of the impact that orchestras have achieved within the health and social care fields so far, by providing a significant evidence base to develop policy and practice, to build cross-sector collaboration, to engage with developments such as social prescribing, and to encourage further investment.’

James Sanderson, Chief Executive of the National Academy of Social Prescribing, said in his introduction to the report, ‘I am committed to building on this excellent report and working with the partners to capture and share the benefits of orchestras working in health and care, as well as to connect partners across the worlds of health and care and music. Not only will this support orchestras to themselves continue to thrive, but help people live better, healthier and happier lives.’