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Give people with long-term illnesses gig tickets, not drugs, says Health Secretary

By | Published on Wednesday 7 November 2018

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UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has brought a bit of his former role as Culture Secretary with him, arguing that the NHS should prescribe gig tickets, rather than drugs, to people with long-term illnesses.

Speaking at an event for health-focused think tank the King’s Fund, Hancock argued that over-prescription of drugs for ongoing conditions is unnecessarily costing the health service millions of pounds. Instead of medication, he said, providing people with access to cultural activities, such as watching live music, learning instruments themselves, or dance classes, could be just as effective.

According to the BBC, the minister said that the arts are an “indispensible tool” for doctors, adding: “Social prescription reduces over-prescription of drugs. It can lead to the same or better outcomes for patients without popping pills. And it saves the NHS money. Because many of these social cures are free. We’ve been fostering a culture that’s popping pills and Prozac, when what we should be doing is more prevention and perspiration”.

One of the long-term conditions that would benefit from this alternative style of treatment is dementia, he said. He suggested that patients could be prescribed personalised playlists of music to help them and their families manage symptoms.

There is certainly research which suggests that music can be very effective in managing dementia, due to sound’s close connection to memory. And it was with that in mind that the BBC recently launched a website designed to help trigger memories in people living with dementia through listening to music.

While ‘social prescribing’ is not a new concept – exercise has also long been recommended to counteract some mental health issues, for example – the Alzheimer’s Society told the BBC that it “cannot see music and the arts alone as some kind of silver bullet for people with dementia”.

The charity’s Director Of Policy, Sally Copley argued: “What we really need to see in addition to social prescribing is GPs giving people with dementia access to the right support and medication when needed and, crucially, the government ensuring adequate funding for care is addressed”.

Chief exec of mental health charity Mind also said that, while prevention through getting people active is welcome, that approach requires proper investment and support, and should be seen as working alongside, rather than in place of, other treatments.

“Local services have been subject to substantial cuts over the past decade”, said Mind’s Paul Farmer. “This prevention strategy must be matched with long-term investment, if we want to see it become a reality and making a real difference to people’s everyday lives. We want self-care techniques to be seen as complementary to, rather than as a substitute for, mental health services, such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy”.

Of course, if the UK actually leaves the European Union without some kind of deal in place, causing delays at the border which could stop some key drugs from getting into the country in a timely manner, having a bit of a sing-song might be the only option. While also stockpiling drugs to avoid such a Brexit-made crisis in the short term, Hancock pledged £4.5 million of funding to 23 social prescribing projects in England in July this year.



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