Video: Musicians Marc and James play to stroke patient Robert Brudenell at Nottingham City hospital.

In a culture where people expect a pill for everything, creative and artistic practices are often overlooked as a means of helping patients recover from illness or injury.

Hospitals are encouraged to have a holistic approach to medicine with music in healthcare becoming a more popular practice.

Professional musicians, Marc Block and James Tolhurst, from Wellspring Music CIC, play on the stroke unit at Nottingham City hospital each week.

“Music is the most brain enhancing activity anyone can do at any age”
Jo Stockdale, Child Learning and Development Advisory Centre

Robert Brudenell, 55, suffered a stroke that left him with paralysis down both sides of his body and unable to talk.

Brain-imaging research has shown that music engages multiple networks in the brain and can benefit someone that has had a stroke.

Jo Stockdale, Director of the Child Learning and Development Advisory Centre (CLADAC), has spent several years developing arts programmes in dementia care and mental health settings.

She said: “Music is the most brain enhancing activity anyone can do at any age.

“There is no activity available on Earth that uses the left brain and the right brain in equal measure, which is why music making is very good for the brain at any age.”

Music on children’s wards

OPUS Music CIC are a group of professional musicians that play music to and with patients across the East Midlands.

Melanie McKinnon, 43, first encountered OPUS musicians at King’s Mill hospital, Mansfield.

Video: Melanie McKinnon talks about how she felt before and after hearing the musicians play. 

“All I know is that music plays a very positive part in those wards out there”
Andy March, General Manager Derbyshire Children’s hospital

Clinical reports have shown that hospitalisation in children can have a long-term psychological and behavioural impact.

Nicola Glenday, 37, has stayed in hospital with her five-year-old son, Kyle, for four weeks.

Video: Kyle Glenday who has autism benefits from the musical interactions he has at King’s Mill hospital.

Andy March, General Manager of Derbyshire Children’s hospital, believes music is beneficial in meeting a child’s psychological needs.

He said: “All I know is that music plays a very positive part in those wards out there.

“Distraction is a massive part of what we do and if we can keep the kids happy then we know we can get them home quicker.”

How music can help improve medical outcomes in children’s wards

  • Reduces stress and anxiety
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Enables the building of neural connections
  • Distracts from pain and procedures
  • Increases ‘sense of personal power’ boosting self-esteem
  • Fosters and builds relationships within the hospital environment
  • Aids work of healthcare staff

Source: An observation of OPUS Music CIC’s practice with children in hospital, April 2016 by CLADAC

The future of music in healthcare

With hospitals under greater financial pressure, music in healthcare may seem like an easy target for cuts.

Heloise Davies, from Arts Council England, believes art organisations need to complete a more ‘robust evaluation’ of their work before the NHS can adopt further art interventions.

She said: “At the moment I think it is tricky for the NHS to embrace more holistic well-being projects.

“The evaluation needs to be better by music practitioners or else getting independent evaluators in, perhaps those that have a healthcare specialism but that costs money.”

Jo Stockdale thinks a different approach is needed.

She would like to see the NHS investing more in the arts as part of their medical practice.

Audio: Jo Stockdale speaks about the arts as an ‘untapped resource’ in healthcare.