On Tuesday, 6th November, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care spoke at the King’s Fund health think-tank about the importance of social prescribing for reducing the reliance on drugs for the treatment of long-term illnesses. Social prescribing means doctors being able to prescribe social activities and community programmes as well as, or instead of, medication.

Response from Playlist for Life:

Music that gives you that flashback feeling can be a lifeline if you get dementia. It is great that this simple piece of knowledge is being recognised at the highest level.

There is no cure for dementia and current drug treatments work in only around 30 per cent of people for an average of six months. Dementia is a difficult condition to live with and caring for people with it can be challenging. Sometimes drugs are the only option hard-working, dedicated care staff have to help someone in distress.

Music is not a silver bullet but the research shows how carefully scheduled listening to a personal playlist can improve mood and quality of life, and reduce the use of sedative medication by pre-empting points of distress or diverting people away from anxiety. There is real scope for social prescribing – particularly of music - to deliver significant improvements in care and wellbeing for the growing number of people living with dementia.

Playlist for Life is proud to work with a growing number of care homes, NHS workers and community organisations across the UK to reach people with the power of playlists. The results can be astonishing and profoundly moving. The Secretary of State gave a great example in the work being done by Pacific Care’s team at Lillyburn Care Home, north of Glasgow. They have reduced the use of medication by 60 per cent, with the GP prescribing the residents’ personal playlists to be used as a first step before considering sedation.

Two thirds of people with dementia live at home, alone or cared for by friends and family. Playlist for Life believes the way to reach them is through the people they already know and the media they already consume. That is why Playlist for Life is working with organisations at the heart of communities like churches and libraries to establish a UK-wide network of local Help Points where people can come for advice and a helping hand if they get stuck making or using a playlist. Everyone regardless of their culture, social and economic background, should have access to the tools and services required to create the soundtrack of their lives.

Playlist for Life is proud to be part of the wider Music 2020 campaign to ensure every person with dementia has access to music by the end of 2020. Music is special, neurologically. It stimulates many parts of the brain at once meaning that if part of the brain is damaged, the music can still reach those other parts. However, personal playlists are one of a wide spectrum of musical interventions that should be available to everyone with dementia including Singing For The Brain, dementia choirs, live performances and specialist programmes run by arts organisations.

The Secretary of State’s speech to the Kings Fund suggests he is thinking widely about how society should deal with some of the great public health challenges we face. His recognition of the power of non-pharmacological treatments for people facing serious illnesses, his pledge to create a National Academy for Social Prescribing and his intent to work with organisations at the heart of communities to reach people living at home is forward-thinking, joined up and welcome.

Recognising the power of non-pharma and the importance of local community delivery is the start; now the Department of Health and Social Care needs to bring a wide range of partners together – including the NHS, NICE, care providers, industry and the third sector - to develop a concerted plan to change lives.

For further information or additional comment please contact [email protected] or call 0141 404 0683