Rt Hon Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care: Keynote address

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  • Posted:Tuesday 20 November 2018

Rt Hon Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, gives the keynote address at our event in November 2018, Social prescribing: coming of age.

In this job of course I get to see and work with brilliant, brilliant people. Doctors, inspirational nurses, paramedics. We know that what the NHS does of course is life saving and what the arts do is life enhancing, and this is the exciting thing about the social prescription agenda across the board. What for many and for a long time has sounded like and seemed like common sense and through the ages has been understood to be beneficial, is increasingly now scientifically proven and therefore gaining traction in the medical world, and I’m focusing on the arts today but of course this is true right across the board. 

The arts can help keep us well, aid our recovery and support longer lives better lived. The arts can help major challenges facing health and social care, aging, loneliness, mental health concerns and other long term conditions, and the arts can help save money for the NHS and the social care system. 

One project, a collaboration between the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Whole Stroke Recovery Service use music sessions to help people after they’d had a stroke, and what they found is through learning to play instruments, trying conducting and eventually performing as a part of an orchestra, nearly 90% of stroke patients felt better physically with fewer dizzy spells, epileptic seizures, less anxiety, improved sleep, improved concentration and memory. 

In Lambeth, in South London, the Alchemy project used dance as an early intervention against psychosis. The young people who work with dance experts showed major improvements in concentration, communication and wellbeing. It is about what works for the patient, what fits and of course stopping people from becoming patients in the first place, and indeed to get prevention right we must move towards more person centred care and this is how we do it, by giving people the knowledge, the skills, the confidence to take responsibility for their own health, by using new technologies to help people make informed decisions, work with healthcare professionals, to choose the services they need when they need them. 

So under this vision for prevention, I see social prescribing a growing importance, becoming an indispensable tool for GPs, just like a thermometer or a stethoscope might be today. There are nearly 3,000 libraries in England, many of them already do great work to help people become better informed patients so they can better manage their own health. Norfolk’s healthy libraries initiative is a great example of libraries being used for smoking cessation and healthy living sessions, but if we can connect even more libraries to primary care and community care and increase training for librarians on social prescription referrals, then we can reach even more people. 

We’re looking at how music can help people with dementia, how it can reduce the need for medication, reduce agitation and combative behaviour. How it can reduce the need for restraints and help people with dementia, and their families, cope better with symptoms. 

And here I want to pay tribute to the pioneering work of the charity Playlist for Life. Their work, creating personal playlists for people with dementia, led to a 60% reduction in the need for psychotropic medication at one care home. We will create a national academy for social prescribing to be the champion of and build the research base for and set out the benefits of social prescribing across the board, from the arts to physical exercise to nutritional advice and community classes and I want to work with all of you to get it right. 

And I want to say this very frankly, social prescribing reduces the over subscription of drugs. It can lead to the same or better outcomes for patients without so many pills and it saves money for the NHS because many of these social cures are either free or cheaper. 

Now drugs companies may not like this and you can bet that this multibillion dollar industry will use every tool at its disposal to lobby for the status quo and to convince us drugs are better than cheaper social cures. That’s why we need a national academy for social prescribing to be a champion for non-drug treatments. People coming together, taking part in the arts, taking part in social activities, getting involved in something that’s good for our health and good for society. The arts and health in action together. Lifesaving. Life enhancing. Making life worth living. So, let’s all work together and make it happen.