GPs will be able to refer patients experiencing loneliness to charities that run social inclusion programmes by 2023, under plans being put forward by the government.
Among measures in the government’s strategy for tackling loneliness is to roll out “social prescribing” nationwide.
Social prescribing is where health and social care professionals can refer people to services that offer help with their emotional and practical needs. This can include cookery classes, walking clubs and art groups, as well as help tackling issues such as debt, housing or relationship problems.
The strategy pledges that within five years the government will support a roll out of social prescribing across the country, including a “universal national offer in GP practices”.
“This will be achieved by embedding link workers, who guide the individual to appropriate services or support,” states the strategy.
“This support will be available within every primary care network across the country. This commitment recognises that people’s social wellbeing and connections are integral to their physical health.”
In addition a national database of local social prescribing schemes will be created this year, including contact details of charities and other organisations running schemes.
A guide to good practice in social prescribing and an online social prescribing platform for commissioners and health and social care practitioners will also launch later this year.
Department for Culture, Media, Sport and Digital minister Tracey Crouch, who was made minister for loneliness in January, said: “Our Strategy sets out a powerful vision for addressing this generational challenge. 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.”
Care minister Caroline Dineage added: “Loneliness can be detrimental to our health and it’s unacceptable that so many people still suffer in silence from this social injustice.
“That’s why it’s so important we are taking concerted action to tackle the problem, building on previous investment in social prescribing schemes to see healthcare professionals play a vital role in signposting people to local community services.”
Among organisations already running schemes to combat loneliness is The Cares Family, which runs a network of charities in London, Manchester and Liverpool that run activities that bring together young professionals and older neighbours.
“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 The Cares Family founder Alex Smith.