Loneliness ‘top medical issue’

Isolation is the main medical problem for many elderly people, a professor has said.
Isolation is the main medical problem for many elderly people, a professor has said.

GPs need more time to care for the nation’s million older people who are chronically lonely, a leading doctor has said.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, likened loneliness and social isolation to suffering a long-term physical condition.

She will tell the Royal College’s annual conference in Liverpool that for many patients their “main problem” is that they are lonely.

Professor Stokes-Lampard – a practising GP in Lichfield, Staffordshire - will tell delegates: “Social isolation and loneliness are akin to a chronic long-term condition in terms of the impact they have on our patients’ health and well-being.

“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 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.”

The Campaign to End Loneliness says a million older people in the UK suffer from chronic loneliness.

They are more likely to suffer from heart disease, depression and dementia as a result.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “It’s extremely welcome to hear the Royal College of GPs talking about the serious consequences of loneliness. Our analysis shows that about a million older people in our country are lonely, an often devastating state of profound unhappiness.”

Addressing this is a job for us all, she said. GPs can support their patients by finding out about other help in the community, especially services that are experienced in helping lonely older people, she added.