“Reflective and transformative”

Our Arts Programme in the Renal Dialysis Unit at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) offers patients the opportunity to engage in visual art, creative writing and poetry, film, photography and live music during their lengthy periods on dialysis.

Waterford Healing Arts has been running an Arts Programme in the Renal Dialysis Unit at UHW since 2007. The Renal Dialysis Unit is an 18-bed unit which accommodates approximately 90 chronic renal dialysis patients every week from the south-east of Ireland.  Each patient attends for renal dialysis for 3-4 hours, usually three times per week. Artists work in the unit on a weekly basis, engaging patients in art making, including visual art, photography, writing and singing/music.  The Arts Programme is funded by the Punchestown Kidney Research Fund and is supported by the staff members on the unit who are keen to provide positive, creative and absorbing activities for their patients.  A Steering Committee was set up in 2023 to support the programme, involving patients, the wider renal team (consultants, nurse managers, staff – present and past) artists and our own WHA team.

In 2023, we set up a new Art Workshop for Home Dialysis Patients.  These patients are supported by Renal Home Therapies and, as such, do not currently have access to the Arts Programme in the chronic Renal Dialysis Unit.  Led by artist Philip Cullen, workshop participants are offered the opportunity to make whatever kind of art they are interested in – drawing, watercolour, collage etc – in a group setting with others who share their experience.  This workshop takes place in our Centre for Arts + Health, a separate building on the UHW campus.

It is never a requirement to produce an artistic outcome but due to the nature of dialysis and the long-term connections that develop between patients and artists, some wonderful artistic outcomes have emerged, including poetry collections, exhibitions, audio recordings, memoirs and our first comic book. These include:

Captured Time – an exhibition and accompanying book of artworks and poetry by Johanna Tanner, Frank Curtis and Philip Cullen (2009)
Captured Time II – an exhibition of artworks and writing by Frank Curtis, Johanna Tanner and Philip Cullen (2011)
Beyond Captured Time – a series of artworks and writing by Frank Curtis, Johanna Tanner and Philip Cullen to accompany the Captured Time II exhibition (2011)
All About Us – Memories, stories and poems by patients and staff from the Dialysis Unit, Waterford Regional Hospital (2012)
Unfolding Time – a book and CD of stories and poems by Liz McCue, Bríd Ryan and Johanna Tanner (2013)
Nature’s Reflections exhibition and Nature’s Whispers book by Kate Quinn (2016)
Thursday’s Child: Stories from a feisty renal warrior, by Liz McCue (2017)
Red House Legends: Woodford to Waterford, A Life’s Journey in Verse by Martin McShea (2017)
77 Years A-dreaming: Recollections and reflections on a wonderful life, by Jack Kelly (2018)
Braveman, by Ben Kelly (2021)
Alfie’s Escapades: Stories from a mischievous Jack Russell and his feisty renal warrior, by Liz McCue (2022)

In 2018-2019, Waterford Healing Arts commissioned an independent evaluation of the Arts Programme in the Renal Dialysis Unit at UHW, with a view to informing the future development of the programme.  Conducted by independent researcher Leigh Tesch, the evaluation report was overwhelmingly positive and concluded that “The programme can adapt (to) and support the individual person receiving dialysis, so that their journey with kidney disease can be eased, explored and lead to remarkable and meaningful opportunities”.  Commenting on the publication of the research, Leigh Tesch said “I found that the Waterford Healing Arts programme in renal dialysis not only offers a way to pass the time while undergoing treatment, but a reflective and transformative personal experience.  It is to be commended and can inspire other Units and healthcare settings.”

The Executive Summary of the evaluation is available here

The full report can be accessed by contacting Waterford Healing Arts at wha@hse.ie / 051 842664.