Loneliness a ‘public health epidemic’, NI GP group says

Doctors’ body says practices visited by one to five people a day who just need company

The Royal College of General Practitioners Northern Ireland said that between one and five people are attending GP practices each day mainly because they are lonely. File image: iStock.

The Royal College of General Practitioners Northern Ireland said that between one and five people are attending GP practices each day mainly because they are lonely. File image: iStock.

 

Loneliness has become “a public health epidemic” in Northern Ireland, a doctors’ group has said.

The Royal College of General Practitioners Northern Ireland said that between one and five people are attending practices each day mainly because they are lonely.

The doctors organisation, which has more than 1,300 members in the North, says 10-minute appointments are “unfit for purpose as GPs need more time to care” and that workforce gaps and workload pressures must be addressed to allow GPs to spend longer with their patients.

The college on Wednesday announced the details of a community action plan to tackle the issue of loneliness, which is says increases a persons risk of an early death by 50 per cent when compared to those with good social connections. They says loneliness is as bad for health outcomes as obesity.

Loss

Dr Grainne Doran, chair of the college, says loneliness has become “a public health epidemic” and factors like demographic changes and the loss of the nuclear family have caused an increase in loneliness across the age spectrum.

“All too often, GPs are the only human contact that chronically lonely patients have,” she said. “These moments of meaningful connection matter. “As family doctors, we believe that treating patients means listening to them and understanding their concerns – but GPs need time to care.”

Dr Doran said tackling loneliness was about more than medical care.

“That’s why we want to see a dedicated professional for every GP surgery — a community navigator,” she said.

“We also want councils to help people make the right connections by establishing a regularly updated database of community and voluntary sector projects and schemes in their area.

“This will support patients, community navigators and carers to ensure that people are matched to the best schemes for their needs.”