Time for a creators’ health service? asks medical expert

Dr Deborah Charnock, Chief Executive of the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM), considers the merits of creating a cohesive health network for musicians, songwriters and artists.

Throughout our industry, physical and mental wellbeing has often been neglected, but is a vitally important area. Music creators set themselves extremely high – often impossible – standards, measuring themselves against others in a very competitive field. Peak performance requires mastery not just of musical skills but also those required to maintain good health and manage the pressures of work. More needs to be done to help people overcome health problems common in such a challenging career.

It’s been great to see a new enthusiasm throughout the industry for meeting the unique health needs of creators and performers. In particular, mental health in the music industry has been the focus of much recent discussion. Building on this, I think now is the ideal moment to ask some vital questions:

Do we need a performing arts industry-specific healthcare service and what should this uniquely provide?

What relationship should this have with existing healthcare providers?

What will ensure that such a service is effective, safe and accessible to people in widely varying circumstances?

What role should the music business and related performer support organisations play, including record companies, publishers, collecting societies, unions, educators and charities?

Although answering these questions is not straightforward, BAPAM has been providing free specialist health services to music creators and other artists for over 25 years and has unique insight in the field.

We connect creators, performers, students and teachers with committed, expert healthcare practitioners. We give free medical advice about work-related health problems including playing-related pain and repetitive strain injury, voice loss, hearing problems, performance anxiety, stress and other psychological issues. Some people come to us because they have problems that have proven too career-specific to be effectively assessed in non-specialist services. Sixty percent of our clients have already seen a health professional before attending a BAPAM clinic.

Expert career-specific medical advice enables people to make informed decisions and facilitates effective ongoing care. Many of the artists we’ve worked with tell us that our help in navigating a sometimes bewildering situation has proven invaluable in helping them beat career-threatening illness and injury.

Practical solutions always require a combination of approaches – self-help strategies, NHS services, independent practitioners offering highly specialist services, help from writer and performer support charities like PRS for Music Members Benevolent Fund and Help Musicians UK, and other organisations including MIND, the British Voice Association, British Tinnitus Association and alcohol and substance misuse services.

Sometimes specialist treatment is provided by private practitioners who work with many performing arts clients, either because highly specific expertise is difficult to access on the NHS or NHS referral timescales are not compatible with a performing arts work schedule. Musicians and creators are likely to be self-employed or under pressure from management. If unable to work they need to find effective solutions quickly.

Psychological services are one area where the practitioner’s experience with a particular client group is of vital importance, but there are others – for instance physiotherapy, where the solution to a debilitating problem may be missed by someone who hasn’t worked with many musicians.

Whatever form a performing arts health service takes, it is vitally important that systems are in place to ensure all patients receive safe, evidence-based, effective, and data-secure treatment. If charities and other music industry bodies offer their own service, or refer their clients, artists and members elsewhere, they should very carefully monitor the quality of those services and ensure their resources are being used ethically to best support those in need.


This comment piece featured in the latest print edition of M magazine.