Doctors in England will be able to refer patients experiencing loneliness to community activities and voluntary services and postmen will drop in on lonely people as part of their rounds.
The Government launches its Loneliness strategy today with figures suggesting that three quarters of GPs surveyed have said they are seeing between one and five people a day suffering with loneliness.which is linked to a range of damaging health impacts, like heart disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.
The Prime Minister will confirm that all GPs in England will be able to refer patients experiencing loneliness to community activities and voluntary services by 2023.
The practice known as ‘social prescribing’ will allow GPs to direct patients to community workers offering tailored support to help people improve their health and wellbeing, instead of defaulting to medicine.
As part of the long-term plan for the NHS, funding will be provided to connect patients to a variety of activities, such as cookery classes, walking clubs and art groups, reducing demand on the NHS and improving patients’ quality of life.
Up to a fifth of all UK adults feel lonely most or all of the time and with evidence showing loneliness can be as bad for health as obesity or smoking, the Prime Minister will also announce the first ever ‘Employer Pledge’ to tackle loneliness in the workplace.
A network of high-profile businesses – including Sainsbury’s, Transport for London, Co-op, British Red Cross, National Grid and the Civil Service – have pledged to take further action to support their employees’ health and social wellbeing.
The Government will also partner with the Royal Mail on a new scheme in Liverpool, New Malden and Whitby which will see postal workers check up on lonely people as part of their usual delivery rounds. Postal workers will be speaking with isolated people to help link them up with support from their families or communities if required.
The Prime Minister will be meeting a social group from the charity The Cares Family, which has branches in North London, South London, Manchester and Liverpool. The charity arranges social events for young professionals and older neighbours to come together and share their experiences.
Founder Alex Smith of The Cares Family said:
This is a serious strategy that’s not only going to help people feel more connected in their everyday lives but is also inspiring other Governments and communities around the world to see loneliness for what it is: a heart-breaking emotion and a major public health issue.
It’s welcome the Government is acting – that can spur real culture change.
Kim Leadbeater, Jo’s sister, on behalf of the Jo Cox Foundation said:
I am delighted that the strategy for tackling loneliness is being launched today. The work on loneliness has been a hugely important part of Jo’s legacy and it is heartwarming to see how much progress has been made on the subject since her murder.
It is excellent to see that loneliness is now firmly on the Government’s agenda, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been involved in getting us to this point. The important thing now is to turn the dialogue and strategy into action; that is undoubtedly what Jo would want, and for every life that is made less lonely as a result of the work she started and that we have all continued, we will take great comfort. I look forward to this happening in the coming months and years. Thank you.”