National Association for Patient Participation

Loneliness in Scotland is an epidemic

23 May 2018

The Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland (RCGP Scotland) is calling for an end to ten-minute appointments so that GPs can play a part in dealing with the ‘epidemic’ of loneliness in Scotland. The call comes as part of RCGP Scotland’s eight-point community action plan to tackle loneliness and isolation, which has been launched today.

Three out of four GPs say they see between one and five people a day who have come in mainly because they are lonely.

Evidence shows that loneliness can be as bad for patients’ health as chronic long-term conditions. Loneliness puts people at a 50% increased risk of an early death compared to those with good social connections, and it is as bad for health outcomes as obesity.

Launching the community action plan, Dr Alasdair Forbes, RCGP Scotland’s Deputy Chair (Policy), said:

“Loneliness has become an epidemic.

“GPs and their teams have a key role to play in identifying people who are chronically lonely or who are at risk of becoming lonely. All too often, GPs are the only human contact that chronically lonely patients have. These moments of meaningful connection matter, when someone asks, ‘What matters to you’ rather than simply, ‘What’s the matter with you’.

“As family doctors, we believe that caring for lonely and isolated people means listening to them and understanding their concerns. GPs need time to care. That is why we’re calling for an end to ten-minute appointments, as we want GPs to be able to spend longer time with patients and get to know what really matters to them.

“But tackling loneliness is about so much more than medicine. That is why we are launching our eight-point community action plan, to help address the problem and ensure that GPs and their teams can provide the best possible care to lonely patients in association with other community resources.

“I would encourage anyone who needs to, to contact their local GP or practice team if their personal situation is having a detrimental effect on their health, whether they be young or old.
“Of course, loneliness cannot be tackled by GPs alone and medication is not the solution. The GP workforce in Scotland is extremely stretched, with considerable workload pressures and 856 extra full time GPs needed by 2021. To truly tackle social isolation and loneliness requires a societal response which would bring benefits to both the public and Scotland’s NHS.”

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RCGP Scotland’s community action plan details eight points to tackle loneliness in the country:

1. An end to ten-minute appointments, so that GPs can spend a longer, more appropriate time with patients and get to know what really matters to them.

2. Further analysis of the benefits of the Community Links Worker programme, leading to the programme rolled out to every GP practice.

3. A national, centrally managed, regularly updated and quality assured database of voluntary sector projects and schemes to tackle loneliness, to ensure people are matched to the best schemes for their needs.

4. Development of ways that GPs and their teams, with colleagues in the voluntary sector, can communicate easily and learn from each other.

5. Sustainable and reliable funding of vital third sector organisations within the community.

6. GPs having the time within their working week to develop and foster relationships with local organisations, for the benefit of their patients.

7. RCGP Scotland will engage GPs in tackling loneliness by providing educational and professional development resources for their practice teams.

8. A national public health campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage everyone to take action by checking on their neighbours and getting involved in their local community.

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