A visit to hospital can be a worrying experience whether you are a patient, relative or just visiting. Once hospitals were forbidding, austere places but over recent years, with encouragement from the Department of Health and others, many hospitals have transformed the healthcare environment by using the special skills of artists and craftspeople.
Exeter Health Care Arts (EHCA) was established in 1992 as the arts project for the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.
It uses project monies, primarily from charitable sources which have included the National Lottery, which are not intended for direct healthcare provision. The organisation's work has three main strands:
Live art events - performances and workshops for patients and the public in communal spaces and within the wards of hospitals. See photo right.
Exhibitions - the individual presentation of artists' work in public and clinical areas of the hospitals, and a programme of changing solo and group exhibitions
Capital projects - environmental schemes in public and clinical areas, both inside and out. In 1998 a major programme of capital arts and environmental schemes began, following a £405,000 National Arts Lottery award.
As part of the award, the work of the organisation up to 1998 was evaluated in a study undertaken by Arts for Health part of the Faculty of Art and Design of Manchester Metropolitan University. A key finding of the report was that ‘… the Trust has obtained excellent value-for-money.’ The study also found that over 40% of clinical staff considered that the arts have a positive effect on the healing process and nearly 90% considered that the environment where health care is delivered has observable effects on users. The report has attracted widespread interest and has helped to establish EHCA as one of Britain’s flagship Arts in Health initiatives. Its findings accord with other studies in the UK, Europe and the USA and underpin the belief that ‘feeling better is an essential part of getting better’. Further research is now underway to help us understand patient’s ward experiences. This work is in conjunction with the Peninsula Medical School’s School of Complementary Health.
Much of the work of Exeter Health Care Arts is concentrated at the main Wonford site of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital in Barrack Road. Projects have also taken place at the Heavitree site and at the Honeylands Children's Centre.