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Oireachtas Committee on the Future of HealthcareSubmission by Helium Arts

In August 2016, Helium Arts made a submission to the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare. The remit of the Committee is to achieve cross-party consensus on a ten-year strategy for health care and health policy in Ireland, and to make recommendations on a changed model of health care.

The submission by Helium Arts examined the value of integrating the arts in future healthcare in Ireland for children and young people. The following is a summary of our key points and recommendations:

1. Child-friendly healthcare includes a child’s right to access the arts
The Charter on the Rights of Children in Healthcare in Ireland states that it is a child’s right to ‘participate in education, play, creative activities and recreation, even if this is difficult due to their illness or disability’. A holistic approach to children’s rights requires a healthcare system that connects health rights to the child’s other rights. 

2. An integrated health system is a health system that has established relationships across sectors, and this includes the Arts 
An integrated health system is one that not only prioritises integration within the health service but adopts a cross-sectoral approach, including relationship building with the Education, Leisure and Culture sectors. Our submission recommended Social Prescribing as one model of how to integrate the arts in healthcare. Social Prescribing is a recent concept in primary care which describes the use of non-medical interventions to support people affected by depression or anxiety.

3. Teenagers transitioning to adult care – The arts supporting the self-management of young people living with chronic and life-limiting illness 
Transition is the process of preparing young people living with chronic illnesses for transfer from child to adult healthcare services. It is recommended that this occur as early as possible. Failure to transfer to adult services successfully can result in poor adherence to medication, poor attendance at follow up clinics and potentially adverse health outcomes.

In a Systematic Review of the Literature [2] on the use of the arts to support transition for teenagers, two studies described arts-based interventions for children with chronic illness. The objectives of these interventions were to promote similar outcomes such as self-management, self-care, adherence to medical treatments, autonomy and coping skills.

Our submission on the benefits of the arts for teenagers transitioning to adult care also included a case study on Helium’s Fireflies Project, which aims to support the ‘National Model of Care for Paediatric Healthcare in Ireland’ (December 2015) and specifically the section on structured transition, by investigating how the arts can support transition by promoting independence, decision making skills, communication skills and improved self-esteem.


Approximately 10% of children (100,000) in Ireland are living with a chronic illness. It has been proven that children and teenagers living with chronic/serious/life-limiting illnesses can suffer from anxiety and depression and need psychosocial support in addition to medical and clinical treatment.

In the context of chronic illness, it has been shown that engagement with creative artistic expression (e.g. visual arts, expressive writing) has significant positive effects on health (Stucky & Nobel, 2010). Arts interventions can support people suffering from anxiety and depression and other mental health issues. Therefore, our recommendation was that the arts are integrated within the psychosocial care of children living with chronic/serious/life-limiting illness:

1.) Innovate a model of integrated arts practice which supports the psychosocial needs of children living with chronic/serious/life limited illness

2.) Consider the Submission from the Arts and Health HSE and Arts Council Working Group to the Oireachtas Committee

3.) Examine further models of arts interventions that support the psychosocial needs of children with chronic/serious/lifelimiting illness

4.) Provide professional development for Paediatric clinicians in the area of arts and health for children/teenagers

5.) Encourage third level medical courses to include modules/lectures in the area of arts and health and children/teenagers

6.) Create a referral system for paediatric clinicians/GPs to refer patients to relevant art and cultural services


[1] Callinan and Coyne, “Systematic review of art-based interventions to promote transition of young people with chronic diseases from child to adult services”. Commissioned by Helium Arts and currently awaiting publication.