Bringing music medicine to the NHS

When Florence Nightingale wrote her seminal guide to nursing she cited the importance of music to the patient.

Now more than 100 years later, the training college that takes her name is to employ its first composer in residence.

For a year, John Browne will work with the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery at King’s College, London.

Among other projects he aims to compose choral pieces for the Florence Nightingale anniversary celebrations taking place in May and June and to create a songbook for nurses to use in children’s wards.

“This is a very different and very exciting opportunity for me,” he said.

Benefit of music

“I am being inspired by the people, the buildings and the rituals of the school and its partner hospitals – but most of all by the themes of nursing and care.

“On the one hand I’ll be observing and responding to nursing practice on a very intimate level, and that’s very moving, and at the same time I’ll be looking at ‘care’ as one of the really big themes of our times, and of all times.”

Mr Browne has already worked with a variety of musicians ranging from professional singers and choirs to community groups and even the survivors of the Rwandan Genocide.

People need creativity and quite often in life when they are in hospital that is lost
Ian Noonan

“I have done community operas, operas for children and a hip-hop opera,” he said.

“They have given me a very open brief at the college, but I do want to create a songbook for nurses working with children that they might be able to use to soothe, distract or explain.”

Mr Browne said the nurses could then pass on the benefits of music to their patients.

Music has been shown to be beneficial in many areas of health, from stroke recovery to lung condition management.

Ian Noonan, a lecturer in mental health at the Florence Nightingale, said Mr Browne’s music would bring another dimension to nursing.

“Music is essential in life. People need creativity and quite often in life when they are in hospital that is lost.

“Everything has to be done in a standardised way and people can be very frightened if they are very unwell.

‘Power to soothe’

“But the importance of music goes back to the time of Florence Nightingale.

“She pointed out that it is important that nurses are quiet at night and don’t disturb anyone, but she also talks about how familiar songs and things like Home Sweet Home or an Italian aria can sensitively soothe the sick and have the power to restore the soul.

“It is about trying to find a different way rather than looking solely at the Nice (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) guidelines or Department of Health guidance, and about getting students to think in a more narrative way.

John Browne
John Browne is composing for the NHS

“Many people who have been nursed in hospitals find the difference between the excellent nurse and the OK nurse is not any tangible thing they do.

“Rather, it is the way that they do it, and that requires an art – rather than a science – way of teaching.”

Diana Greenman, chief executive of the charity Music in Hospitals, says the benefits of music cannot be ignored.

“Live music has the power of reaching inner depths no other activity can ever penetrate.

“Sensitively presented music helps to relieve pain, depression, anxiety and loneliness, which is often experienced at a difficult time.

“It is often said that music can be the best medicine in the world.”

The one-year residency has been made possible by a £10,000 grant from the PRS Foundation, the UK’s largest independent funder of new music.

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