GPs across England are being encouraged to tackle the increasing numbers of people suffering with loneliness by "Social Prescribing" as part of Government plans to tackle what is fast becoming one of the "greatest public health challenges of our time".
The Government's Loneliness Strategy follows a recent survey where three quarters of GPs 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 confirmed all GPs in England would 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.
In Tower Hamlets, we are well ahead of the game. The GP Care Group already provides a Social Prescribing service for residents, with all 36 GP practices and primary care networks signed up to the service and each area network having its own named Social Prescriber. Since the initiative started, there have been more than 2,500 referrals already.
It is good to see the wider recognition of the benefits of the Social Prescribing services and dedicated funding set aside to help the NHS 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.
Speaking about the Loneliness Strategy, the Prime Minister Theresa May said: "This strategy is only the beginning of delivering a long and far reaching social change in our country - but it is a vital first step in a national mission to end loneliness in our lifetimes."