Filling hospitals with art reduces patient stress, anxiety and pain

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital has found that the mental health and experiences of those receiving intrusive examinations, surgery, chemotherapy and emergency care are improved when visual art is installed.

Ceramic installation at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, by Adam Nathaniel Furman, image courtesy Gareth GardnerResearch from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital has found that placing art in the NHS trust has helped to improve patient wellbeing, decrease hospital stays and reduce anxiety, depression and pain.

The study was conducted by CW+, the London hospital’s charity, which runs an arts therapy programme for patients and clinicians.

The findings coincide with the hospital releasing The Healing Arts, a book showcasing how it has used visual art, performance and music over the last 25 years to help improve wellbeing and experiences for people in the hospital.

Examples include mixed media installations in public spaces such as atriums, digital artwork in examination rooms, animal-based murals in children’s departments, and a multi-coloured, on-site cinema.

Women’s anxiety in cervix exams reduced

Atrium installation, by Sian Tucker, image courtesy of CW+

Research found that over four fifths of 50 women undertaking colposcopy (cervical) examinations said that having visual art present “greatly improved their anxiety and experience” of the procedure. The digital art installation in the women’s outpatients’ department includes screens showing films of natural landscapes, wildlife and towns, and were installed to provide “distraction” for women while they undergo what can be an “uncomfortable” examination, says the hospital.

It also found that 16 out of 19 clinical staff working in the children’s emergency department noted that zoo-themed digital art, showing moving images of animals, improved young patients’ anxiety, while 15 out of 19 clinicians said it decreased their pain.

These recent findings add to prior research completed by CW+ in 2004, which found that the use of art and music made a positive impact on certain patients, such as women in labour, those having chemotherapy or undergoing surgery.

Labour two hours shorter and less anaesthetic needed

The Healing Arts book cover, courtesy of CW+

It found that labour was two hours shorter when art was present, while levels of the stress hormone cortisol and feelings of depression dropped by a third for those having chemotherapy.

For those having surgery, less anaesthetic was needed, hospital stays were an average of one day shorter, and levels of cortisol nearly halved.

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital is not the only NHS trust to use visual art to help patients and clinicians – Sheffield Children’s Hospital, through its charity’s art programme, Artfelt, has commissioned several designers and illustrators over the years to transform its spaces, including Morag Myerscough, Jon Burgerman and Quentin Blake.

Guy’s Hospital in London also recently commissioned interior design studio Between Art and Technology (BAT) to create a listening and relaxation room for those with cancer, complete with soundscapes and natural furniture, to help patients and their families escape the hospital environment through their imaginations, in a bid to improve their mental wellbeing.

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital’s new book, The Healing Arts, which explores the connection between art and health and the therapeutic power that art can have, is available to buy now through Unicorn Publishing Group for £15.

Guy’s Hospital relaxation room, by BAT Studio
Illustrations, by Jon Burgerman at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, photo courtesy of Jill Tate
Wall illustrations, by Andy J Miller at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, photo courtesy of Jill Tate
Hide Comments (7)Show Comments (7)
  • Adrian Kimpton July 29, 2019 at 8:58 am

    As has been reiterated here, it is increasingly being recognised that art and design play an important role in healing through the creation of distracting, disarming, relaxing child and family friendly surroundings. And we wholeheartedly agree. As an agency we have been working in this area for many years, and through our work with GOSH and St Mary’s Imperial we have seen and in my case, from personal experience, have seen the assistance that effective environment and wayfinding design can have in creating a positive and supportive sense of place for patients, families, visitors and staff.

    Our work for GOSH we think exemplifies all that this article is about:

  • Greg Quinton July 29, 2019 at 9:42 am

    There is also a lovely organisation called ‘Paintings in Hospitals’ that has been loaning art to Hospitals since 1959. They led the way all those years ago and firmly believes in the healing power of Art. They don’t have big budgets, but do have big hearts. If you would like to get involved in whatever way you can, please contact them at:
    Thanks in advance.

  • Morgan Zaccardo July 30, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    Should’ve interviewed the folks at Tia Clinic for this piece! Beautiful space that just opened in Manhattan.

  • ThinkerTheThank July 31, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    No I do not think it is “art”. It is anything that is outside the “hospital” stereotype. Could be flowers, trees or anything not hospital style. So… it is not “the art”, but the “not the hospital style”.

  • Anouk Foundation August 8, 2019 at 2:04 pm

    This is fabulous work and so supports the patients, their families and the staff! Congratulations! We at Anouk Foundation create murals for medical and social institutions in over 16 countries and would be delighted to work together to brighten lives! come and visit our website:

  • mark Gulbrandsen September 30, 2019 at 1:51 am

    Once I walked into my doctor’s office and found that type of crap art and I told them it would be my last visit. They replaced beautiful pictures of scenic Utah with that junk. My next doctor had some nice scenic outdoors pictures. Crap art does not make people want to heal. Scenic pictures do!

  • December 22, 2019 at 10:17 pm

    Can’t agree more! Not only living in healthy environment but also being surrounded by plants or fresh flowers has generally positive effect on our well being, both physically and psychically. A few studies I was reading also concluded that it can affect childs development as well. By spending most of their time in healthy environment, they feel more motivated to study, and are more prone to be interested in self-development. Putting effort into making hospitality a better and comforting place is a huge beneficial change in our society. I hope it will get better and better.

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