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Doctors Encouraged to Prescribe Art Lessons to Cure Loneliness

A new GBP£1.8m scheme aims to support socially isolated people

New Linthorpe’s ‘The Coffee House’ session, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, 2016. Courtesy: Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art; photograph: Judy Hume

New Linthorpe’s ‘The Coffee House’ session, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, 2016. Courtesy: Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art; photograph: Judy Hume

New Linthorpe’s ‘The Coffee House’ session, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, 2016. Courtesy: Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art; photograph: Judy Hume

A range of activities including art lessons, cookery and dance classes could be prescribed on the NHS. Doctors will be urged to recommend social activities to patients suffering from loneliness, rather than drug-based treatments, as part of a new GBP£1.8 million government strategy.

UK prime minister Theresa May called the problem of loneliness ‘one of the greatest public health challenges of our time’, saying that it effected a fifth of adults in the country. The funding will go towards supporting community projects including art spaces. The government estimates 200,000 elderly people have not talked to a friend or relative in over a month.

Minister for loneliness Tracey Crouch commented: ‘Nobody should feel alone or be left with no one to turn to. Loneliness is a serious issue that affects people of all ages and backgrounds and it is right that we tackle it head on.’

But Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, underlined the importance of reversing cuts to council budgets. ‘It is essential that these services which are already under pressure are able to cope with demand – GBP£1.8 million will not be enough to ensure these services can do that.’

Earlier this year, a survey of doctors showed a consensus that ‘public engagement with the arts can make a significant contribution to the prevention agenda (i.e. preventing ill health among the public)’. Of the 1,000 doctors surveyed by the arts and health charity Aesop, 66% agreed that arts engagement could help in delivering primary care.

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