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What role should GP practices play in social isolation?

by Léa Legraien
13 October 2017

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Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), said GP practices can help socially-isolated patients.

Speaking at the RCGP Conference in Liverpool on 12 October, professor Stokes-Lampard told the story of 84-year-old Enid.

Enid, ‘an ageing widow’, was regularly visiting her practice not because she was ill but because she felt lonely and wanted to talk to someone.

‘Social isolation and loneliness are akin to a chronic long-term condition in terms of the impact they have on our patients’ health and wellbeing.

‘They are not something that can be treated with pharmaceuticals or that can be referred for further treatment in secondary care. But they must be addressed if we are to be patient-centred in our approach,’ said Professor Stokes-Lampard.

Tackling loneliness

Di Whaller, practice manager at the Arden Medical Centre, Stratford-upon-Avon, created Prime 75+, with the healthcare organization Prime GP, for people aged 75 and over.

The scheme, launched in 2015, involves a project manager coming to the surgery one day a week. His role is to identify isolated patients, find shared interests and offer them various activities within the community.

‘From our own GPs’ perspective and as a practice, the model is really simple yet highly effective, and is clearly having a positive impact on our isolated and lonely older patients.

‘Not only that, but it is reducing their dependence on the health care system and freeing up valuable GP time and subsequent workforce pressures.

‘As a practice, we have seen the number of GP appointments amongst patients seen by our dedicated Prime75+ project manager reduce by a phenomenal 33.3%,’ said Mr Whaller.

Meeting patients’ needs

Professor Stokes-Lampard hopes that more similar initiatives will be implemented across the country and that the £2.4bn promised in the GP Forward View will help shaping a national care that fulfills all patients’ needs.

‘As GPs we cannot fix all of society’s problems – but we do get to see them and feel them – and we need to recognise their impact on health and have strategies to help our patients whilst protecting time to be doctors.

‘But it is not always possible right now to deliver this level of person-centred care. We need the time, the staffing and the resources to do it,’ she said.