By Jane Elliott
BBC News Health Reporter
An innovative scheme to use art to cut unnecessary medical consultations is proving such a success that other surgeries are looking at taking on the idea.
Dr Opher's scheme has cut consultation rates
Dr Simon Opher has been 'prescribing' poetry, art and ceramics to patients with a variety of complaints ranging from stress, relationship problems to drug misuse and it has cut consultations from some of the patients by as much as 75%.
He said getting these patients away from a totally medical environment had proved very beneficial.
"I think it was about the fact that a lot of people come to see you as a doctor and their problems are not always medical - they are sometimes social or spiritual.
"Doctors tend to medicalise people, and this was a way of trying to encourage people to do something else with their lives and it was a way of getting them to socialise with people.
"There is some evidence that it reduces GP consultation from people who tend to have very high numbers of consultations.
"Almost universally people say they feel more relaxed and more confident with better self esteem."
Dr Opher said the scheme, which is open to all patients at his surgery in Dursley, in Gloucestershire, was very popular with participants and patients who are able to watch classes which are sometimes carried out in the waiting room.
So far, about 300 patients have taken part in the scheme, from a practice list of 4,500.
"I was very keen on the idea because talking to some people with stress and anxiety they said that they were doing a lot of writing," said Dr Opher.
"I thought some of what they had done was very interesting and not at all bad, so I got a poet to come in to the surgery to work with patients and that went down very well.
"I then got a ceramicist to work with them. Now we have an artist.
"Generally it is pretty popular and at one point we even had a waiting list - which was pretty NHS.
"We have found it also helps people with Parkinson's and with terminal illnesses.
"It is an idea quite widely practised in hospices, expressing how you feel through painting to relieve stress and suffering.
"It is about getting people to be creative and it helps people.
"It is free and people enjoy doing it and they come week after week.
"When we had the pottery class, it used to take place on a Tuesday afternoon when we had antenatal classes.
"The mothers would leave their children with the artist while they came in to see me and that worked quite nicely.
"Initially people thought it was a bit wacky, but now it is going down well."
Jane Manning, from the Adult Continued Education and Training Group, which has funded the scheme, said the classes were reaching a new group of people who were not normally still involved in learning.
Morwenna finds the classes therapeutic
"It is a really really good idea and we are trying to get it into other surgeries in the area."
Artist in residence, Sue Evans, said she had received very good responses from patients who have attended.
"It is going really well and there is a lot of positive feedback. I tend to run a taster session and a lot of people come who have not touched pen and paper since school.
"Some of the people I get in the class have been referred and some have heard about it and come along.
"The patients say it helps them as a stress reliever, because while they are concentrating on the art they are not thinking about their problems.
"And Dr Opher said that some people who come to see him are now talking about their art rather than their problems.
Ms Evans said because the group ws small people start making relationships and building up their confidence.
"Waiting rooms can be quite depressing and watching this takes your mind off it."
Morwenna Hills, aged 65, is a patient at the surgery and has been attending the art classes.
She has the sight disorder macular degeneration and finds it therapeutic to do be able to do something so creative, despite her condition.
"I think it is a fantastic idea. I am all in favour of people being encouraged to be creative.
"It is like Chinese medicines in that it is preventative and that must help the NHS debt."