Defeating Loneliness and Social Isolation: How can I help?
2 July 2019 | Catherine Best, Queen’s Nurse
When Theresa May launched the Loneliness Strategy in 2018, it was considered the first of its kind to address the debilitating impact of loneliness and social isolation. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect was the focus on social prescribing.
In her blog on social prescribing published by the Queen’s Nursing Institute, Dr Michelle Howarth explains its importance and how nurses can become involved. Social prescribing also plays an important part in the NHS strategy for Universal Personalised Care, firmly embedded within the NHS Long Term Plan. If you are less inclined to read the full 136 page document, here is a summary.
This is not however simply the domain of governments and the NHS, many charities and businesses are also supporting the need for change. In 2015 Age UK published its Evidence Review on Loneliness in Later Life, a review that highlighted growing concern about the impact of loneliness in the UK. The terms loneliness and social isolation are often used interchangeably and yet there are some distinct differences, as the review explains.
Also in 2015, The Co-op declared ‘We’re Tackling Loneliness’ and joined forces with the British Red Cross to tackle the destructive impact of loneliness and social isolation through their Connecting Communities Scheme and Fulfilling the Promise report. They sought not only to raise the profile of these often trivialised or even ignored conditions, but also to take action. This strategy has also led to a collaboration with Cruse Bereavement Care, the aim of which is to support people experiencing loneliness after the death of a much cherished loved one.
Social isolation affects people of all ages and backgrounds. In the report Reducing Social Isolation across the Lifecourse published by Public Health England and UCL Institute of Health Equity, it is reasoned that it is often the most vulnerable within society who are the hardest hit. One way in which nurses can help is to Start a Conversation, but it’s not only nurses who need to do this, each and every one of us can help in some way to reduce the impact of loneliness and social isolation.
Building on Jo Cox’s Commission on Loneliness, the report A Connected Society published in 2018, aims to define ‘what good looks like’. With the facts speaking for themselves, loneliness is all pervading and can have devastating consequences on a person’s physical and mental wellbeing. We could all play our part in making life more enjoyable for everyone.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that nurses often feel helpless to support those who are experiencing loneliness and social isolation. We are often at the acute end of care, saving lives as a priority; but many patients are simply discharged and go back to the same situation, which led to their hospitalisation in the first place. Having appropriate information available and understanding how the various organisations can help, may not be as onerous as you may think.
Many of you will decry this as just one more thing to think about in the challenging world of work. However, it is simply about being open, listening to our patients and understanding the challenges they face; something that most nurses do amazingly well.
Nurses, please don’t underestimate the impact of your skills and your ability to be advocates for change, nor the significance of your compassion in making change happen.
Signposting may be all that is required to support your patients. By simply helping just one person today, we may not change the world for the better, but we may just change their world.
Catherine Best, Queen’s Nurse
Is a Honorary Visiting Lecturer in Nursing at the University of Bradford
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