GPs will be allowed to prescribe social activities such as dancing sessions and coffee mornings for those at risk of loneliness, under a new strategy announced by Prime Minister Theresa May.
By 2023 clinicians will be able to connect patients with a variety of activities, such as cookery classes, walking clubs and art groups, reducing demand on the NHS and improving patients’ quality of life.
‘Loneliness is a reality for too many people in our society today… it can affect anyone of any age and background,’ said Mrs May. ‘Across our communities there are people who can go for days, weeks or even a month without seeing a friend or family member.’
In a survey linked to the strategy, 75% of GPs said they see between one and five people a day suffering with loneliness. Loneliness can have damaging health impacts, such as an increased risk of heart disease, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease. Approximately 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.
‘This is a serious strategy that’s not only going to help people feel more connected in their everyday lives but is also inspiring other Governments and communities around the world to see loneliness for what it is: a heart-breaking emotion and a major public health issue,’ said Alex Smith, founder of The Cares Family, an initiative to combat loneliness in the community.
The prime minister also announced £1.8m to increase the number of community spaces available. The funding will be used to transform underutilised areas, by creating new community cafes, art spaces or gardens.
‘Nobody should feel alone or be left with no one to turn to. Loneliness is a serious issue that affects people of all ages and backgrounds and it is right that we tackle it head on,’ said Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Loneliness. ‘By bringing together health services, businesses, local authorities, charities and community groups we will raise awareness of loneliness and help people build connections to lead happier and healthier lives.’