Remote art therapy project for rural cancer patients could be extended during pandemic

Dr Rachel Rahman is Director of the Centre for Excellence in Rural Health Research at Aberystwyth University.

Dr Rachel Rahman is Director of the Centre for Excellence in Rural Health Research at Aberystwyth University.

11 June 2020

An innovative research project offering remote art therapy to cancer patients in rural Wales could be extended to other areas of the health service during the Covid-19 crisis.

The project has been developed by researchers in the Department of Psychology at Aberystwyth University in partnership with the Hywel Dda University Health Board.

For almost a year, the scheme has been offering cancer patients the chance to take part in creative art sessions without having to leave their homes.

The remote therapy sessions may now be extended to other patients who are self-isolating or unable to travel safely to appointments.

The University has also been working with the Hywel Dda University Health Board to produce short films illustrating the potential benefits for patients and staff.

Under the scheme, patients are provided with a tablet device such as an iPad so that they can take part in online therapy sessions from a distance.

It means that people who are undergoing a course of chemotherapy or other treatment are less at risk of picking up an infection when their immunity is low.

The project is part of a wider research study into the problems facing health care delivery in rural Wales, led by Dr Rachel Rahman, Director of the Centre for Excellence in Rural Health Research at Aberystwyth University.

“Social support is a critical component of treatment for immunosuppressed patients undergoing chemotherapy and this project was originally aimed at offering alternative ways of delivering such support. However, the current Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the wider benefits of telehealth for patients and staff,” said Dr Rahman, who is also a Senior Lecturer in the University’s Department of Psychology.

Alison Shakeshaft, Director of Therapies and Health Science at Hywel Dda University Health Board said: “This is one example of how technology is being used across the Health Board to provide therapy services to support members of the public who are shielding or self-isolating during the coronavirus pandemic. This use of technology is proving to be an effective way of providing services and support and is likely to increase across the health system.”

The remote art therapy and psychological support sessions using an iPad are led by art therapist Gudrun Jones from the Hywel Dda University Health Board.

“By offering remote art therapy, we have been able to reduce patients’ sense of isolation,” said Gudrun Jones. “The research has shown me that working with an electronic device, such as a laptop or iPad, is well suited to art therapy because patients can see each other, share their creative work and still feel part of a supportive group. Working in this way has also increased my capacity to offer a psychological support to patients, and this period of lockdown has raised further potential applications.”

Specialist palliative care nurses in the Ceredigion-based team are also able to respond to the circumstances of the current crisis by taking a device to a patient’s home and supporting them in connecting with the palliative care consultant at Bronglais Hospital in Aberystwyth.

The device not only connects the patient, but supports carers who are shielding and isolated from the support they would usually be able to access.

Patients can also connect using their own devices such as an iPhone, while other members of the health team such as Occupational Therapists or Counselors have also been able to offer remote support to the same family.

The two films produced by Aberystwyth University’s Department of Theatre, Film & Television Studies and featuring patients and staff using the remote service during the pre-Covid-19 period, can be viewed on the Hywel Dda University Health Board website.