Secretaries of State, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I tell you what, this evening, I really wanted to take the opportunity to pay an enormous tribute to Michael Dixon because his work on this whole subject has been utterly tireless and dedicated and selfless for so many years.
I dread to think how long it is since I’ve known him, but I have nothing but the greatest admiration for everything he has managed to do over all these years and the success he’s achieved through his constant travelling up and down from Devon in the train. Every time I ring him, he gets cut off.
But really I wanted to say also this evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, because you deserve a great tribute as well I think, as there as so many of you who have helped to deliver on all this.
I have been much impressed by what I have heard this evening - not only by the persistence of those who invented Social Prescription but also, if I may say so, by the willingness of N.H.S. England, Simon Stevens and his team to make Social Prescription available to every patient and G.P.
Only a few years ago, of course, the mere mention of "non-biomedical solutions" might have met with a sceptical response – as I know to my cost after some thirty or thirty-five years of trying!
Today, it is widely recognised that, while taking full advantage of the enormous benefits we have derived from biomedicine, we can also look beyond to the many non-biomedical ways in which human health can be promoted and preserved. What was an innovation has become an accepted wisdom, or what was very unorthodox has become almost orthodox. We are marking that important transition this evening.
For instance, I thoroughly agree with the Secretary of State that the arts can make an invaluable contribution to health and healing, as, incidentally, can the practice of craft skills – which is why vocational education, I’ve always thought, is of such importance and should be prescribed far more often! I have long contended, for instance, that the quality, design and attractiveness of the built environment has a direct influence on human wellbeing – in other words, beauty is good for you and ugliness is not!
The good news is that beauty can be prescribed, as I have tried to demonstrate in the planning and design of new communities, rather than soulless housing estates. Interestingly, a recent Royal Society research study has demonstrated that beautiful places and locations are associated with better health.
The study revealed, and I quote, that “the uplift in joy from visiting a pretty neighbourhood was, on average, greater than that gained from cooking, eating and reading. Likewise, travelling from a place of beauty to an ugly one led to a slump in happiness similar to commuting.” Therefore, social prescribing will, I am sure, enable us to restore our social capital and begin to create genuine mixed-use, mixed-income communities that keep us well, rather than make us ill. Likewise, the natural environment, too, plays a vital role and I have long advocated that we should respect and conserve what I can only refer to as "Nature's Capital".
So, Ladies and Gentlemen, as you take forward this vital work, I can only encourage you to be ever bolder and to support interventions and activities that take full recognition of each individual’s hopes, beliefs, interests and abilities, as well as their mind, body and spirit, as part of an integrated approach to health and well-being.
Ladies and Gentlemen, you are providing hope for the future and I shall be watching the progress of Social Prescription with great interest – for as long as I can retain my marbles!