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'Your hospital choir has a song for you'

Cath Gilliver
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Hospital choirs are booming – and that’s just the basses.

It’s not really surprising given the proven health benefits of singing, and the individual gains – a boosted immune system, improved posture, endorphin release, increased strength of the diaphragm and circulation, better sleep, improved mental alertness and memory, reduced stress – are magnified by the experience of belonging to a choir.

“Choir members report a sense of belonging and confidence”

cath gilliver2

And there’s more – choir members report a sense of belonging and confidence, as well as increased social networks and a feeling of inclusion, to the point where singers’ heartbeats synchronise into the patterns which are most conducive to heart health.

An additional benefit of hospital choirs is the bonding of different staff groups across disciplines through sharing an experience which transcends roles and hierarchy.

Up to 10 years ago, the hospital choirs that existed were often drawn from several hospitals within an area and took their singing very seriously, using a classical repertoire and often having the aim to raise funds for charity as well as make music.

However, the advent of Gareth Malone and his workplace choirs in 2012, which included the formation of a choir at Lewisham Hospital, created a new model that was more inclusive (no auditions required) and more rooted in a particular location.

The subsequent NHS charity single which pushed Justin Bieber off the Christmas number one slot created a huge national buzz and was a testament to the power of combining choral singing with that treasured institution, the NHS.

The Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability in London has set up a staff choir in response to a period of organisational change and disruption, with the aim of promoting social, emotional and physical health along with maintaining a positive rapport and morale within the workplace.

The choir has about 20 members, including nurses, allied health professionals and admin staff. Bernice Chu, the music therapist who runs it, says that the key outcomes (as well as all the health benefits) are having fun together, supporting creativity and pride (in busking and fundraising as well as in singing).

”If you haven’t got a hospital choir, then get together and set one up”

However, some hospitals have taken a more radical step by including patients and family members as well as staff; a shining example of this is the Christie Foundation Trust in Manchester, one of the largest cancer treatment centres in Europe with 257 beds. The Rhythm of Life choir was launched in 2015 and forms part of their extensive patient support services which include art sessions and employment support.

Rosalyn Fox, MacMillan secondary breast care nurse specialist, says that the choir has gone from strength to strength and stresses the need for more choirs and music therapists within oncology settings. Rosalyn carried out a small-scale research study in 2016, which showed that all members surveyed agreed that choir attendance improved their happiness levels and gave them a more positive attitude to life, while many people also mentioned specific health benefits such as improved breathing and relaxation.

From gospel through Judy Garland to Ed Sheeran, your hospital choir has a song for you. And if you haven’t got a hospital choir, then get together and set one up.

As Mike, a patient at the Christie, says, “It could lead to new harmony in your life.”

Cath Gilliver is director: The TIC CIC

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