Intended for healthcare professionals


Spend (slightly) less on health and more on the arts

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 21 December 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1432

Health would probably be improved

  1. Richard Smith, editor
  1. BMJ

    When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his experience. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses. For art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstones of our judgement. The artist … faithful to his personal vision of reality, becomes the last champion of the individual mind and sensibility against an intrusive society and an offensive state.

    John F Kennedy

    The British government spends about £50 billion a year on health care and £300 million supporting the arts. My contention is that diverting 0.5% of the healthcare budget to the arts would improve the health of people in Britain. Such a move would of course be highly unpopular. When asked whether a tax financed increase in spending on health would be good for the country as a whole, 74% say yes.1 Only 7% say yes for increased spending on culture and the arts.

    The first problem with advancing such an unpopular argument is to define health. It must be more than “the absence of disease,” despite that being the working definition used by misnamed health services. Such a definition is inadequate not only because of its narrowness and negativity but also because “disease” itself is so hard to define.2 The World Health Organization's definition of health as complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing understandably …

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