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Issue 466, 8 May 2001

Hospital patients treated by the book

Patients at the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) are to be given food for thought next week, when they receive a poem with their lunch as part of arts week. The idea comes from writer-in-residence Mandy Sutter, who has been selecting poems to be sent to 800 patients each day.

Ms Sutter, who teaches creative writing and journalism at the School of Continuing Education at the University of Leeds, has been talking to patients about their lives, and writing poems based on their experiences. She then gives the poem to the patient for their response and feedback.

Literary therapy Ė Mandy Sutter visits Sylvia Knight during her dialysis session

"When I first took on the post, I imagined I would be encouraging patients to write. However, hospital is not a very conducive atmosphere to write in Ė patients are often upset and frightened, and there is little peace, quiet or privacy. The writings I have received have generally been written after patients have returned home, and had time to reflect on their experiences here.

"When writing the poems, Iíve been very careful not to simply use patientsí lives as material for my art. I try to make it a two-way process, giving the poem back to them. Itís turned out to be very therapeutic, and many nurses have been positive about the project as they see an improvement in patients after speaking to me, which is wonderful."

Ms Sutter herself has published both poetry and short stories, and is currently working on her second novel. The residency with the teaching hospitals will finish at the end of May, but she is hoping funding can be found to continue. Many of the wards involved want to contribute funds themselves, and decisions are expected soon on applications to the Lottery and other funding bodies.

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