Public campaign needed to tackle loneliness

The Royal College of GPs says that a national public campaign is needed to raise awareness of loneliness and social isolation across society.

Launching its new manifesto, the Royal College of GPs is seeking to influence the government’s approach to tackling loneliness and is encouraging all to get involved in combatting this 'public health epidemic’.

Tackling Loneliness: A Community Action Plan argues that a widespread campaign is essential to educating the public, and should also encourage people to talk to their neighbours and start local initiatives in a bid to build and strengthen social connections throughout communities.

Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "A national-level campaign to make people aware of how big a problem loneliness is, and the very real adverse impact it can have on people's health and well-being, could help to break down some of the barriers that are keeping lonely people lonely. We'd like to see a campaign launched that reduces any stigma associated with loneliness, and makes it easier for people to make social connections.

"Loneliness is not a medical condition, but it can affect our patients' health – some research studies estimate more so than obesity. It can also have a real impact on workload pressures in general practice and the wider NHS, at a time when the whole system is facing intense resource and workforce challenges. GPs are at the forefront of patient care, at the heart of communities, and we see many people whose underlying problem isn't medical, in our surgeries every day. But tackling loneliness, and helping patients who might be at risk of becoming lonely through social isolation, cannot all come down to GPs and our teams. We need a society-wide approach to address this growing epidemic."

Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “The potential of social prescribing to tackle loneliness is immense and is an idea whose time has come. By connecting people with local community services and activities we can improve the health and well-being of large numbers of people.

“Councils have various schemes and initiatives in place to tackle loneliness and work closely with voluntary organisations and faith groups to support vulnerable people in the community. But councils can only do so much. There needs to be greater public awareness of loneliness as a serious illness. We all need to be on the look-out for each other, such as checking on a neighbour, who could be a young mum without any family nearby, or an older person living alone. This could make a major difference and help tackle loneliness, which is placing an increasing burden on health and social care.”

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