Many of us have long been aware, if only anecdotally, of the impact loneliness can have on GP surgeries. We wrote about this earlier this year and use the example of Dr Jonathan Tomlinson, who wrote this excellent blog about a fictional lonely patient.
Since then, the Campaign has been doing more digging in this area. Today, we are publishing a new poll in which we asked over a thousand practising GPs how many people they saw in the average day who they thought had come in mainly because they were lonely. Our findings were shocking:
- Over three quarters of the GPs we spoke to said they were seeing between one and five lonely people a day.
- One in ten doctors questioned reported seeing between six and ten lonely patients a day.
- A small minority (4 per cent) said they saw more than 10 lonely people a day.
These results go some way towards showing the scale and impact loneliness is having on GP resources. In an average day most family doctors see around 30 to 40 patients in total, meaning that at least one in ten people they see have attended the surgery mainly because they are lonely.
We also asked GPs if they were confident they had the tools necessary to help these patients: nearly half said they weren’t. Only 13 per cent said they were confident they could help a patient who was lonely.
We recently heard about an Islington GP who said:
“We see people come in to talk to the front desk to just pass the time of day…I see that as very much part of our role here – to have a frontline situation where we’re welcoming and warm…because the safety nets and structures in their lives are so skinny.”
We know that loneliness has a devastating impact on health, and clearly it also puts a strain on GP and NHS resources: these results demonstrate a clear set of challenges to GPs, commissioners, and service providers. We believe GPs and those providing local services need to communicate better to allow doctors to refer patients to those who might be more able to help – like this example of a GP partnering with the Royal Voluntary Service in Dorset.
But ultimately it is down to those commissioning services to seek to fund the early interventions and preventative services that will stop lonely people needing to go see their GPs in the first place. Our loneliness toolkit, written for health and wellbeing boards, has a wealth of information and advice about how to start. If you sit on a board, we encourage you to take a look at it: www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/toolkit
And if you would like to make sure your local GPs and commissioners are aware of the health risks of loneliness, why not take a look at our Loneliness Harms Health campaign resources?