The therapeutic effects of the arts have been recognised for many centuries ' engaging with the arts can supplement medicine and other care for people with health problems (physical or mental). In addition, it can build mental wellbeing, which can lead to a wide range of benefits including improved physical health, educational
performance and, importantly, increased ability to cope with life and its problems.
Arts on prescription programmes are non-clinical, group-based arts programmes which aim to improve mental health and quality of life for participants. At-risk or vulnerable individuals are referred to the programmes, which are often provided locally by the voluntary and community sectors. There are many examples of arts on prescription programmes that have been set up across the UK, for a wide variety of people and based on a range of art forms.
There is a need for robust evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of arts on prescription programmes so the
treatments that will confer the most benefit to patients can be identified. In addition to clinical effectiveness, cost-effectiveness evidence is becoming increasingly important, as this can be used to allow commissioners to make decisions regarding how best to allocate resources to maximise health benefits for the local population. However, there are numerous challenges involved in generating such evidence for arts on prescription programmes; there
has been a great effort to overcome these challenges in recent years, and 'transport arts activity from the periphery
into the health research mainstream'. Looking forward, one of the long-term aspirations of the movement is that care packages for people with chronic conditions include payments for arts interventions, as they currently do for medication and other clinical interventions.
The strength of the evidence base for arts in health generally, and arts on prescription programmes specifically, has increased somewhat in recent years.