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Cost Benefit: Poems in the Waiting Room | 22-May-06

The editor of Poems in the Waiting Room has produced a cost benefit study for the scheme. The editor writes:

"Funding bodies, especially in the public sector, increasingly require cost benefit studies to justify financial support. Poems in the Waiting Room (PitWR) has published a formal cost benefit analysis that presents hard evidence of the scheme's benefits to patients. PitWR estimates that it would cost an annual £25,000 to serve some two thousand NHS waiting rooms, circulating quarterly 60,000 poetry pamphlets. The value of the benefit to patients ranges from some £168,000 to £201,600 annually. The benefits far outweigh the scheme's costs, yielding some £143,000 to some £176,600 net of the £25,000 annual budget.

The study first reviews Arts and Health Services national policies bearing on impact. With poetry, it centres on Auden's famous assertion that "poetry makes nothing happen: it survives/ In the valley of its making where executives/ Would never want to tamper" True, Shelley contends that "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" and urges the English to "Rise like Lions after slumber/ In unvanquishable number-/ Shake your chains to earth like dew/ Which in sleep had fallen on you-/ Ye are many - they are few." National policy imposes social objectives and benefits, while also suggesting that art is key to urban regeneration. Persuit of these objectives potentially endangers the artistic body, since projects degrade into a vehicle for social engineering or, since art practitioners are rarely trained social scientists, sociological stunts. Shelley in fact made nothing happen, save in a soul's "enchanted boat".

Readers' or patients' satisfaction is the key to a proper appraisal for PitWR. Survey of NHS General Practice taking PitWR found that nine in ten of PitWR poetry cards are kept and taken away by patients, while NHS staff judge that the poetry cards significantly enhances the patient's visit. Some two-thirds had also received spontaneous comment from their patients welcoming the poems.


The value added by PitWR is relatively small compared to the general run of features in the NHS or to most publicly funded literature arts projects. The scheme is modest, yet it has achieved widespread popularity in NHS general practice and with its patients. It is the most extensive arts in health project in the NHS and the largest circulation poetry periodical in Britain. So far as patient/reader satisfaction becomes a key objective of NHS reform or is embodied in policy for the arts, expenditure on PitWR is exceptionally well justified by the benefits generated.

A summary is published on Poems in the Waiting Room web site www.pitwr.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. Further information can be obtained from Poems in the Waiting Room PO Box 488 RICHMOND TW9 4SW"

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