UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences


World's largest study into the impact of arts on physical and mental health

30 October 2019

The world’s largest ever study into the impact and scalability of arts interventions on physical and mental health has been launched by UCL and King’s College London, supported by a £2m award from Wellcome Trust.


Interventions proven to improve patient health, such as singing groups for postnatal depression, dance classes for people with Parkinson’s and movement and music sessions for stroke patients will be trialled among larger groups of people within NHS hospitals and health centres.

SHAPER – Scaling-up Health-Arts Programmes: Implementation and Effectiveness Research – will be led by Professor Carmine Pariante, Professor of Biological Psychiatry at King’s College London and Dr Daisy Fancourt, Associate Professor of Psychobiology & Epidemiology at UCL, alongside a multidisciplinary team of artists, scientists and clinicians brought together by research manager, Dr Tony Woods, and arts advisor, Nikki Crane.

“There is growing research on the impact of the arts on health. But more work is needed to take programmes from successful local projects with short-term funding to national programmes commissioned by the health sector. SHAPER will see arts interventions embedded into NHS hospitals, clinics and in the community so that we can assess their effectiveness in improving the health and wellbeing of greater numbers of patients,” says Professor Pariante.

King’s will leverage its connections across King’s Health Partners to trial the interventions alongside Guy’s and St Thomas’, King’s College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts, as well as community centres across Lambeth and Southwark.

Professor Sir Robert Lechler, Senior Vice President/Provost (Health) at King’s College London and Executive Director of King’s Health Partners, adds: “We aim to provide the evidence needed for arts-based interventions to be embedded into NHS treatment pathways, offering effective alternatives to traditional therapies while delivering better results for patients and possible cost savings to the NHS.”

Three arts interventions will be offered to patients in partnership with English National Ballet, Breathe Arts Health Research and Rosetta Life.

SINGING FOR POSTNATAL DEPRESSION (PND): Breathe Arts Health Research’s pioneering Melodies for Mums programme brings together new mothers – referred by GPs, midwives and other health professionals – in singing and music sessions with their babies. Led by Breathe Arts Health Research, Dr Fancourt and Professor Pariante alongside Professor Paola Dazzan, Professor of Neurobiology of Psychosis, it aims to reduce symptoms of postnatal depression.

Previous studies led by Dr Fancourt and Dr Rosie Perkins, Reader in Performance Science at the Royal College of Music, have already demonstrated the effectiveness of the sessions in reducing symptoms of PND faster than usual care or social groups. They have also been identified as a strong way of engaging mothers from minority backgrounds who are less likely to seek professional support for their mental health needs post-birth.

Dr Fancourt, adds: “Postnatal depression is a condition for which there is currently a recognised gap in effective treatments and provision for mothers. Evidence from two years of clinical trials and mechanistic studies of singing has demonstrated the promise of community-led singing programmes as an effective and engaging intervention both for mothers’ mental health and to support the early development of their infants. This programme will allow us to further test the intervention to reach more mothers who could benefit.”

PARKINSON’S DISEASE: Dance for Parkinson’s from English National Ballet (ENB) will be upscaled and tested at King’s College Hospital. Led by Professor K Ray Chaudhuri, Professor of Movement Disorders and Neurology at King’s College London and a Consultant at King’s College Hospital, it will see people with Parkinson’s join weekly ballet classes, incorporating live music, dance, rhythm and voice with specialist ENB dance artists and musicians. Dance for Parkinson’s has been shown to reduce social isolation, benefit emotional and social wellbeing and improve stability, fluidity of movement and posture to support everyday life.

Fleur Derbyshire-Fox, English National Ballet’s Engagement Director, says: “Since creating our Dance for Parkinson’s programme in 2010 we have seen first-hand the incredible effects dance can have on a person living with Parkinson’s. We’re thrilled to be a part of this study, with the opportunity to embed the programme within secondary care social prescribing, increase reach and diversity, and in turn have a greater impact on the physical and emotional wellbeing of people living with Parkinson’s.”

STROKE: Stroke Odysseys, a project delivered by charity Rosetta Life and initially developed and funded by King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, will be tested at scale for the first time, led by Professor Nick Ward, Professor of Clinical Neurology and Neurorehabilitation at UCL and Stroke Specialist Consultant Nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Angela Roots.

Stroke patients will be invited to join 60-minute sessions featuring movement, music, song and spoken word in the acute stroke ward at St Thomas’ Hospital in London and at community arts or rehabilitation centres. Co-designed with stroke communities in south London, preliminary research shows that the sessions deliver improvements to patients’ cognition, mobility and speech disabilities, enhancing recovery, agency and wellbeing for patients after stroke. 

Uniquely, the SHAPER programme will have a stream of work specifically dedicated to examining how the art interventions can be implemented within the NHS, led by Professor Nick Sevdalis and Dr Ioannis Bakolis, both from the Centre for Implementation Science at King’s College London.

Baroness Bull (Deborah Bull), Vice President & Vice Principal (London) and Senior Advisory Fellow for Culture at King’s College London, says, “Throughout my career I’ve seen first-hand the many ways in which arts and culture enhance health and wellbeing. At King’s as part of our integrated arts, health and wellbeing strategy, we have been proud to initiate and support innovative collaborations that test this proposition and help build a robust evidence base. The Creative Health report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Arts, Health & Wellbeing, for which King’s was research partner, was a reminder of the vast range of arts in health interventions already taking place and the huge opportunities they could present, if proven at scale.”

Philomena Gibbons, Deputy Director for Culture & Society at Wellcome says: “Arts and creativity can make a significant contribution to addressing a number of the pressing issues faced by our health and social care systems. There are many examples which show the impact of embedding arts interventions in mainstream clinical care. But if we are to build up a good evidence base, and develop effective implementation and evaluation models, we need to enable researchers, cultural organisations and clinical care providers to explore this area on a bigger scale. We are delighted to be awarding this £2m funding to King’s College London and UCL for this important study, and look forward to seeing it evolve in a practical and collaborative way with researchers, cultural organisations and participants all benefitting from the outcomes.”



Credit: Breathe Arts Health Research

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Rowan Walker

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