Live music comes to intensive care to aid recovery

A patient enjoys music at his bedside Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

By Helen Ford

Live music is being brought straight to the bedsides of some of the region's most seriously ill patients.

The initiative is taking place at Newcastle's Freeman Hospital, part of wider efforts to 'humanise' the experience for patients and their families.

Medical staff recognise that intensive care can be a stressful and even frightening experience, with patients enduring lengthy and sometimes painful treatments.

We take the sickest of patients in the hospital onto intensive care so they're often in extremis of illness and a lot of the treatments we have to give to those patients are in some cases painful and distressing. Anything that takes the patients away from that day to day unpleasantness, anything that enables them to get back to a bit of humanity can be very good for them in the long run.

Dr Jon Walton, Intensive Care Consultant

The hospital is working with the charity Music in Hospitals and Care, which has been delivering music in clinical settings for many decades. Bringing live performances to intensive care wards is a new challenge. The charity says it relies on the sensitivity and compassion of its musicians.

There's a lot of pain, there's a lot of fear that people are experiencing, not only patients but relatives and family too. And so our musicians have got to be very aware of this. They've got to be sensitive to the environment from a clinical point of view as well. None of our musicians are clinically trained but they need to know what the protocols are to follow in intensive care.

Jess Ingham, Music in Hospitals and Care

So far, two live music sessions have taken place at Freeman Hospital. Musician Claire Tustin moves from bed to bed, singing and chatting to patients.

It's quite a privilege actually. It's quite moving, I try not to get emotional. We initially planned that all the songs I would do would be really relaxing but sometimes people want to sing along. A woman today said - make me laugh - so I sang her Cushy Butterfield and she sang along and that cheered her up a bit."

Claire Tustin, musician

Normally, the only music available to intensive care patients is through headphones. Patients say the live alternative is a chance to forget their health worries for a few minutes, and re-connect with the outside world.

It is early days for this project but according to the hospital, feedback from patients, their families and staff has been positive. Nurses have reported that patients who were previously withdrawn have become more talkative.

Music in Hospitals and Care will start a similar session at Sunderland Royal Hospital in December and the hope is that more hospitals will follow suit.

Watch my report here: