Loneliness can have devastating impacts on both physical and mental health. Sadly, the number of people in the UK experiencing loneliness is growing and has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic when isolation and distancing were common elements.
Loneliness, especially in older people, is reported to increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, and could even reduce life expectancy by as much as 26% – comparable to the effects of smoking. Plus, those who feel lonely are more likely to experience depression, and are at a greater risk of cognitive decline and developing dementia. Social isolation and loneliness are also risk factors for the progression of frailty and increased risk of hospital admission by 68%.
The highest number of people aged 65 years and over in Sutton live in neighbourhoods covered by the Cheam and South Sutton Primary Care Network (CASS PCN). Many of these older residents live alone without any social support.
GPs from CASS PCN are working with local partners to:
- Understand from local people what they think causes loneliness and isolation and what they think would help to reduce it
- Work with local people to understand how communities function, who are the influencers within communities and what local assets (eg buildings) are available and could be used by the community to overcome loneliness
- Increase local people’s awareness of the role of community pharmacies, social prescribers, health coaches and mental practitioners, and increase awareness of how to access these services
- Increase access to health screening and information on healthy lifestyles
- Discuss with local people what alternative communications could be used to enable information to get to people who do not have access to the internet or other digital communications
Led by CASS PCN, and supported by NHS Sutton and Sutton Housing Partnership, there have been three well-being events at the Shanklin Community Hall in Belmont, within a housing estate in South Sutton, which has been identified as one of the NHS England Core 20Plus5 areas in Sutton for reducing health inequalities.
Local residents have had an opportunity to try chair-based exercises and watch a demonstration on how to cook a healthy meal on a low budget.
The events have been supported by local GPs, social prescribing link workers, a health coach and mental health practitioner from CASS PCN, as well as a community pharmacist form Kirkby Pharmacy and a member of the Royal Marsden’s lung health team.
Through conversations with residents, the professionals raised awareness of the local services available to improve access and, by having one to one discussions with some of the residents, they also picked up a number of referrals.
Nadine Wyatt, Senior Engagement Manager for NHS Sutton said: “It all starts with a conversation, which builds into trust and then develops into a relationship”.
“It takes time to build relationships to fully understand community needs if we are to build resilient communities for the future. It is important to take this time with people because there are not always quick fixes to issues which have been there for some while.”
There has been positive feedback about the events and increasing numbers of local people attending, with the added benefit of the CASS PCN team starting to build relationships with local residents.
Shazma Mawani, GP Partner at Benhill & Belmont GP Centre, and Joint Clinical Director, CASS PCN said: “These events have really helped residents on the Shanklin Estate to get to know one another and participate in some healthy, social activities together. This has given them a greater sense of community and will ultimately help reduce loneliness as people genuinely want to support each other.”
CASS PCN also had a stall at the Cheam Charter Fair, feedback from which highlighted an appetite for cross-generational relationships, making better use of green spaces, as well as identifying a potential site for a community kitchen.
More recently they have visited Sutton Seniors Forum where feedback highlighted that digital exclusion and transport difficulties contribute in a major way to many people’s loneliness. Kate Mayer, GP at Cheam Family Practice and Population Health Board Member shared the fabulous motto belonging to Sutton Seniors Forum: “Nothing About Us Without Us”. She said: “This outreach work reminds us that the roots of loneliness are deep and diverse, and this is a wonderful opportunity to for us to work with local communities to explore the causes and find long lasting ways to reduce them.”