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Dementia: Art and Music-based Interventions

Volume 816: debated on Monday 22 November 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they intend to take to increase the use of art or music-based interventions in the care of people living with dementia.

Music can play an important part in supporting people who are living with dementia. Last year, NHS England and NHS Improvement facilitated three webinars resulting in the publication of guidance for social prescribing link workers to expand music prescriptions. We will be setting out a new dementia strategy in 2022. As part of that development, we are working in collaboration with stakeholders, including people affected by dementia, and will explore the role of arts and music-based interventions.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. What further steps will the Government take to support brain health through social prescribing? How will any measures taken be incorporated into the Health and Care Bill currently being debated in the other place?

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for all her work raising awareness of dementia, in this House and outside of it. The Government understand the importance of non-medical and lifestyle factors in supporting people’s health and well-being, including brain health. This is why we are continuing to roll out social prescribing across the NHS, in line with the NHS Long Term Plan commitment to have at least 900,000 people referred to social prescribing by 2023-24. The Department of Health and Social Care is working closely with NHS England and NHS Improvement to incorporate social prescribing into the guidance to integrated care systems. Some of this guidance has already been included in the document implementation guidance on partnerships with the voluntary, community and social enterprise sector that was published in September 2021.

Around 25,000 people with dementia are from BAME communities and this is expected to double by 2026. The Alzheimer’s Society report, The Fog of Support, found that people from these communities, and those with English as an additional language, were more likely to use BAME-led groups. The report also found that there is generally a need for interventions to be much more culturally sensitive. What action are the Government taking to ensure that people with dementia can access culturally appropriate care, including art and music-based interventions, which reflect a wide range of cultures and languages?

The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is looking at areas where there are clear disparities. As part of developing the dementia strategy, the Government are consulting with a wide range of stakeholders and ensuring that a diverse range of views from different communities is heard and that it is not targeted just at one particularly community.

My Lords, social prescribing is a key aspect of the NHS Long Term Plan. It has been described by the president of the Royal College of General Practitioners as an essential part of the toolkit for tomorrow’s doctors. Therefore, why is social prescribing absent from the core undergraduate curriculum in UK medical schools? Some schools offer optional modules, but there is no national consensus on what teaching should cover or how it is best delivered. Does the Minister agree that, unless social prescribing is integrated into the education of the future healthcare workforce, its benefits for patients and the NHS will never be realised?

The NICE quality standard on dementia, published in June 2019, includes guidelines for offering activities and social prescribing. They are also included in the NHS long-term plan. Obviously, different components are modelled that are social prescribe-enabled—not only music but other art-based activities. The education question will be for my noble friend in the Department for Education, but if the noble Baroness can write to me, I am sure that we can get the answer.

My Lords, music therapy is also increasingly helping Covid patients hit by inflammation and fibrosis that causes shortness of breath—a horrible condition. The Breathe programme from the ENO and Imperial College has classical-singing coaches providing psychological and physiological therapy to great effect. Can the Minister endorse this kind of social prescribing, and can he commit to meeting Dr Harry Brünjes and the Breathe team, which is seeking to take this programme nationally?

I thank my noble friend for that question. As an amateur musician—I stress “amateur”—I know that there is no better feeling than when you connect with your audience as a live musician. Music tugs at your heartstrings. Music touches your soul. But it can also unlock the mind. This shows the importance of music in social prescribing.

My Lords, I hope that patients get the benefit of what I am sure is the Minister’s excellent playing. He has been very positive in his responses, but he will know that the arts sector has been very stretched financially during the Covid years in particular. Will he open discussions with organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society, with an offer of some funding to develop some of the schemes that we have heard about today?

I thank the noble Lord for his invitation to perform live—I am not sure that he will feel the same way after hearing my blues band. Last year, NHS England and NHS Improvement, in collaboration with the National Academy for Social Prescribing, the Alzheimer’s Society and Music for Dementia, facilitated a series of webinars. We are working in consultation with them. In February 2021, Music for Dementia also published social prescribing guides for link workers to help expand music prescriptions. The important thing here is that we are consulting with stakeholders.

My Lords, for more dementia patients to gain access to music therapy through social prescribing, there must be more training on the value of music for carers and healthcare practitioners and greater support for musicians to train as music therapists, and music education must be a much more mainstream part of primary and secondary school education. What assurance can the Minister give that the necessary government cross-departmental action is being taken to deliver on this?

The department itself is working closely with Music for Dementia and other organisations. Across government, we are looking at music, beyond just performance, to see how it can impact our lives and the role that it can have in levelling up and community cohesion, for example. Across government, I am sure that a number of departments are looking at this.

My Lords, the former Secretary of State, Matt Hancock, deserves an enormous amount of credit for setting up the National Academy for Social Prescribing. Before he came into the department, the Department of Health could not have been less interested in the power of the arts and music to have an impact on people’s health. The second anniversary of the academy has just passed. Can the Minister commit to issuing a report on its third anniversary—since I know that he will still be in the post—to suggest how to take it forward? Also, we still do not know what instrument he plays, but perhaps he could take it with him on his first visit to the academy, as soon as possible.

I am not sure which question to answer first. If noble Lords will excuse a second of self-promotion, I am an electric bass player and sing the blues as well.

I thank noble Lords. Can I stop there? I also am aware that my noble friend is himself a music fan. I remember once bumping into him on the Jubilee line on his way to the O2 arena to see Led Zeppelin. Noble Lords across the House recognise the power of music and how it affects our lives.

My Lords, someone very close to me has Alzheimer’s disease. Music-based interventions such as the Alzheimer’s Society’s “Singing for the Brain” groups have been proven to have multiple health and well-being benefits. What support are the Government offering to charities such as the Alzheimer’s Society to ensure that they can keep delivering this kind of intervention? Will the Minister, with his musical ability, commit to attending a “Singing for the Brain” session?

I should warn all noble Lords that they have not heard me yet—their requests may be quite different after hearing my band play. In terms of the ability of music and, if you like, the instructions, we are working with a number of stakeholders as well as ensuring that, when it comes to training social workers and others, they understand the ability of music to make a difference to people’s lives.

My Lords, I declare an interest: my wife is a music teacher and my son runs a recording studio, at which I am sure the Minister would be very welcome. Does the Minister agree that one initiative which could help both dementia sufferers and young musicians and artists would be to sponsor of an internship scheme whereby such students could be working part-time in the care sector, thereby benefiting themselves and those in care?

I thank the noble Lord for that suggestion. We are looking, across the health sector, at how we can think outside the box and train students in other disciplines to help in healthcare. Clearly, music can potentially play a role. In terms of the music studio offer, can I just say “Wait until you’ve heard me”?