Live music for patients, performed virtually, has been raising spirits in Oxfordshire hospitals.

The regular concerts, funded by Oxford Hospitals Charity and organised by artlink, the hospitals’ arts programme, have proven a real hit with patients and staff alike.

Ruth Charity, Arts Coordinator, explains: ‘Hearing familiar tunes can prompt patients to reminisce about happy times, and help make the hospital environment more friendly and welcoming. There is a wealth of research to show how music can engage and stimulate people in hospital, particularly our older patients and those with dementia.

‘With COVID-19 we had to cancel all our ward concerts, but we were determined to find a way to bring them back safely and maintain the intimacy and personal contact that are the hallmark of this programme.’

‘By May we were trialling virtual concerts at the John Radcliffe; a patient could request what music they would like to hear and have a personal performance, as well as a chat, with the musician.

‘For older patients in particular, surrounded by staff wearing masks, they really benefit from seeing a new smiling face and having direct engagement with the musician. It is this 1 to 1 contact that is so important.

‘We are delighted at how well these trials have gone, and are now expanding the concert programme across more of our hospitals, starting with the Horton from September.

Sarah Saunders, Memory Nurse Specialist at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, added:

‘These virtual concerts really make a difference, and some of the responses to the music are quite extraordinary. It is very special indeed to watch

‘We see the music lift the spirits of our patients, some of whom have been really very low and lonely, particularly during the time when COVID prevented any visitors coming in.

‘In recent weeks we’ve had requests for everything from ABBA and Van Morrison to Handel. Songs from the musicals are also really popular with our patients, and some of them even join in.’

Acute Rehab Support Workers and Care Support Workers in the hospitals help to manage the logistical challenges of the project. They also identify patients who could really benefit from these sessions which have taken place on Acute and Complex Medical Wards across the John Radcliffe as well as the Stroke Ward and Ambulatory Assessment Unit.

Musician Kate Wilkinson, who has regularly performed at the hospitals over many years, was instrumental in setting up the new service. She said:

‘It was a bit of a challenge to think of a way that we could continue to work with patients but we felt those in hospital needed that personal touch more than ever whilst COVID was at its peak. I wanted it to be easy to deliver and not too time consuming for the nurses, and of course something that took into consideration all the infection control issues.

‘We were delighted to find that computer tablets meant we could still perform live and keep that special bond between the musician and the patient.

‘One gentleman asked for an opera aria so I sang him the Barcarolle from ‘The Tales of Hoffman’ and when I had finished, he totally surprised me by singing a beautiful rendition of ‘O sole mio’. He had a lovely voice and did an incredible job of singing opera whilst lying in a hospital bed!

‘I also met a gentleman who spoke Italian, and not much English, so I sang him an Italian song, which brought a big smile to his face. The nurse who was with him translated for me, and he said he “really enjoyed the music and my Italian was very good!”

 ‘I am thrilled we were able to continue providing music for patients during lockdown and that the project is growing every week. I love seeing the faces light up when they listen to their chosen song and seeing how much it lifts their spirits.’

Sarah Saunders added: ‘It means so much to the whole team to see our patients smiling and laughing, it is especially powerful when this involves patients who we normally have challenges communicating with.

‘This project has brought a lot of joy to our wards and helped us find ways of providing entertainment and comfort to our patients at a time when that has felt very challenging. The music has brightened the lives of our patients during these difficult times and we are delighted that - thanks to the charity’s support and these fabulous musicians  we are now able to introduce virtual concerts to even more areas in our hospitals.’

The Music on Wards Programme is funded by Oxford Hospitals Charity. In September concerts will start at the Horton General Hospital as well as reaching more areas at the John Radcliffe. We also hope to bring the scheme back to the Churchill and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre soon. 

To find out more about how Oxford Hospitals Charity makes a difference across the wards and departments of your local hospitals, get in touch with the team via the methods below. 

Tel: 01865 743 444

Email: [email protected] 


Oxford Hospitals Charity (registered charity no 1175809) is the official charity supporting Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.