Loneliness is as dangerous as high blood pressure, diabetes and depression
Isolation is prompting millions of OAPs to turn up at doctors’ surgeries simply for someone to talk to.
Professor Helen StokesLampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), will use a keynote speech at its annual conference to say the situation is taking an “inevitable toll on the entire NHS”.
Her address to 2,000 health professionals will call for red tape to be slashed to allow doctors the time to care.
The GP, who practices in Lichfield, Staffs, will say: “Social isolation and loneliness are akin to a chronic long-term condition, in terms of the impact on our patients’ health and wellbeing.
“GPs see patients, many of whom are widowed, who have multiple health problems like diabetes, hypertension and depression, but often their main problem isn’t medical – they’re lonely.
“The guidelines say we should be talking to them about their weight, exercise and prescribing more medication, but really what these patients need is someone to listen to them and to find purpose in [their] life.
“GPs need the time to care. Don’t make us spend it ticking boxes, preparing for inspections or worrying that we haven’t followed guidelines for fear of repercussions. Trust us to be doctors, so that we can treat our patients like human beings and tailor their treatment to their needs.”
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness an estimated 1.1 million over-65s in the UK are chronically lonely and more likely to develop heart disease, depression and dementia.
Age UK said: ‘Our analysis shows about a million older people in our country are lonely’
Isolation is prompting millions of OAPs to turn up at doctors’ surgeries for someone to talk to
Research shows they have a 50 per cent higher risk of early death compared to those with good social links, making loneliness as deadly as obesity.
In her speech, Prof StokesLampard will add: “Loneliness and social isolation are not the exclusive preserve of the elderly. They are not something that can be treated with pharmaceuticals or that can be referred for hospital treatment.
“But they must be addressed if we are to be patient-centred in our approach.
“Research has shown that lonely people consult their GP more often, and in many cases their GP was the professional they would come into contact with most frequently.
“If nothing is done, loneliness will, inevitably, take its toll on the entire healthcare system.”
Loneliness is as dangerous to older people’s health as diabetes
She will also issue a rallying cry for more funding and the delivery of more frontline GPs as the profession suffers with burnout and practice closure.
GPs’ workload has risen 16 per cent since 2010, but investment has declined and workforce has not increased in pace with demand, she will tell the conference in Liverpool.
In 2015/16, there were more than 372 million consultations.
This is thought to be due to the UK’s growing and ageing population and more patients living with long-term, complex conditions.
The RCGP, which blames decreasing investment and the workforce not keeping pace with demand, has called for 8,000 more GPs in England and 10,000 across the UK.
NHS England has promised an extra £2.4bn a year and 5,000 more support staff for general practice, but has yet to deliver.
She will say: “As GPs we cannot fix all of society’s problems – but we do get to see them and feel them – and we need to recognise their impact on health and have strategies to help our patients whilst protecting time to be doctors.”
Age UK said: “Our analysis shows about a million older people in our country are lonely. Addressing this is a job for us all and GPs can play a vital role in helping older people.”