RCGP manifesto demands campaign to fight loneliness and social isolation

A 'public health epidemic' of loneliness is undermining general practice, according to an RCGP report that warns most GPs see between one and five patients a day who have come in because they are lonely.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)

A manifesto published by the college warns that for GPs to deliver the best quality care possible, loneliness and social isolation must be addressed.

The manifesto comes six months after RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard used her first speech as college chair to demand 'Enid-shaped care' - a reference to a patient in her 80s whose health improved after she was referred to a community scheme.

The college is calling on the government to back a national campaign to educate the public about the impact of loneliness and social isolation, and to drive local initiatives that 'strengthen social connections throughout communities'.

GP workload

Professor Stokes-Lampard said: 'Moments of meaningful connection really do matter, but for some people, they are elusive – for some, they might only get these when they see their GP.

'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 wellbeing, could help to break down some of the barriers that are keeping lonely people lonely.'

The RCGP manifesto highlights evidence that loneliness may affect patients' health more than obesity - increasing the risk of an early death by 50% compared with people who are well socially connected.

'Loneliness is not a medical condition, but it can affect our patients’ health – some research studies estimate more so than obesity,' said Professor Stokes-Lampard. '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.

Loneliness

'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.'

The RCGP demand for a new drive to tackle loneliness comes in tandem with a call earlier this month for every practice to have a dedicated social prescriber to take workload off of GPs. The college has cited evidence that referrals to social prescribing schemes can reduce GP workload.

The college welcomed the appointment earlier this year of a government minister for loneliness.

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