How GPs Can Help Tackle Loneliness in Patients

Although it is commonly associated with older people, loneliness is a widespread problem affecting people of all ages from varying communities. So how can the NHS help ease loneliness in patients? Perhaps GPs have the answer.

Loneliness and its effects on health

While keeping in touch has never been easier thanks to online technology, loneliness in NHS patients seems more prevalent than ever. According to the Campaign to End Loneliness Initiative, around 9 million people say they are regularly or always lonely. Studies also show that more than half of people over 75 live alone, many of whom are widowed and have little contact with family.

GPs know that loneliness can impact health in various ways. For example, those who suffer loneliness are more prone to obesity, heart disease and other general health conditions. As a result, its impact could could be as damaging to our health services as smoking, adding pressure to an already strained NHS.

So, how can GPs help lonely patients improve their overall health?

How technology could help tackle loneliness in patients

Technology is often cited as a reason why people feel lonely. But while the pressure to portray the positive side of life via social media can heighten feelings of loneliness, technology also poses a solution to the problem.

Vodafone UK have launched a study into how digital technology can help alleviate loneliness in over 50s by connecting them to family and friends. Through education and workshops, the barriers preventing older people from using technology can be broken down to help them live independently and with fewer health problems.

What GPs can do to help tackle loneliness

One of the recommendations from Vodafone’s report is that GPs should offer social and digital prescriptions, such as wearable devices. Patients will then be encouraged to take part in community activities, become more active and, most importantly, connect with others.

It can be difficult for GPs to find the time and resources to ensure lonely patients get the help they need. The Government’s recently-launched loneliness strategy aims to introduce social prescribing by 2020, helping to provide patients with the support they need, while also giving GPs access to further resources.

Overall, tackling loneliness in patients would help alleviate some of the pressures facing the NHS. Other initiatives include the establishment of triage centres, which could direct patients to the services they need sooner make better use of pharmacists and other health professionals in community-based care. Tackling common issues can help to free up GP time and resources and reduce NHS spending.

In the meantime, GPs suffering under the strain of workloads and growing patient pressures could consider out-of-hours working as a way to enjoy more flexibility in their roles. View our jobs page for out of hours roles in East Berkshire, and apply today.