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Dr Harry Brunjes on the potential of the arts to promote health, prevent disease and accelerate rehabilitation

English National Opera (ENO) Chairman – and vice-president of the College of Medicine – Dr Harry Brunjes has written in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine about the relationship the arts can play in helping health.

At the height of the pandemic last year, Dr Brunjes discussed with fellow doctors – including College of Medicine physicians Dr Michael Dixon, Sir Sam Everington and Professor Ajit Lalvanihe – whether breathing techniques used in opera could help ease breathlessness in patients recovering from Covid-19. 

English National Opera (ENO) Chairman – and vice-president of the College of Medicine – Dr Harry Brunjes has written in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine about the success of the ENO Breathe scheme (Pictured: the stage of ‘ENO’s Drive & Live’ production of La Bohème ©ENO)

The resulting initiative between the ENO and and Imperial College NHS Trust, called ENO Breathe, has since taught techniques that help to maximise oxygen input from breathing and enhance convalescence. The techniques also help tackle anxiety, which can lead to shallow, panicky breaths as opposed to deep inhalation. It is the first partnership of its kind between a leading arts organisation and an NHS Trust.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Dr Brunjes said: “There has been a growing understanding of the relationship and potential of the arts to promote health, prevent disease and accelerate rehabilitation from illness.” 

A pilot ENO Breathe project in November 2020, which took place online, proved a huge success (©ENOBreathe)

He explained: “The project is all part of ENO’s aspiration to be a leading arts provider in social prescribing working at the cutting edge intersection of arts and health utilising the art form of opera for an integrated, holistic recovery programme that would support both body and mind.”

Pilot sessions that ran in October and November last year proved a huge success with a small cohort of online participants reporting a positive effect. 90 per cent of those who joined the scheme, who ranged in age from their 30s to their 70s, said ENO Breathe had either a ‘positive’ or a ‘strong positive’ impact on their breathlessness, and 91 per cent stated that the programme had a ‘positive’ or a ‘strong positive’ impact on their anxiety levels.

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The College of Medicine chair, Dr Michael Dixon, said of the project: “ENO Breathe is such a wonderful juxtaposition of good, basic physiology but also the arts. What we’re seeing increasingly is the arts enabling medicine to create a better tapestry and also a better experience when we heal various conditions, and I think the ENO Breathe initiative is the beginning of great things to come.”

The College of Medicine is delighted to announce the forthcoming free webinar ‘In Conversation With… Dr Michael Dixon and Dr Harry Brünjes’ at 19:00 on Wednesday 19th May – click here, or on the image below, to register.