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GPs to help elderly patients at risk of loneliness under new pilot scheme

GP practices will be asked to pilot a 'low cost' programme of intervention for older people who are lonely, under a new scheme that public health chiefs hope to roll out nationwide.

Public Health England said that its Behavioural Insights Team has developed a new intervention, drawing on what has worked well in previous trials, which it hopes to pilot in GP practices across Greater Manchester this year.

Under the plans, GP practices will be asked to identify which older patients may be at risk from social isolation and loneliness and 'help them through provision of services', PHE said.

PHE said that although 'evidence is still limited for effective interventions to tackle social isolation and loneliness', it is known that it 'substantially affects morbidity and mortality'.

It refused to clarify exactly what GPs will be asked to do, but said the social prescribing programme should not 'burden' GPs, it said.

A spokesperson said: 'The Behavioural Insights Team at Public Health England, along with partners, have designed a low cost, scalable and evidence-informed intervention to reduce social isolation and loneliness and have been given NHS ethics approval to run a pilot.

'We aim to use efficient processes that do not burden the GP to identify older people in primary care who are at risk of social isolation and loneliness and help them through provision of services that draw on the best available evidence of "what works".'

He added that PHE is 'in discussion with general practice in Greater Manchester to pilot this during the 2016/17 financial year', with the aim 'to determine feasibility and to inform future testing of intervention effectiveness'.

Dr Des Spence, a GP in Glasgow, and a tutor at the University of Glasgow, said: ‘It sounds like a good idea but I don’t know that it is a good idea necessarily. I think that kind of falls beyond the remit of doctors. There are so many of these initiatives and they just don’t work in my experience.

'Loneliness I would have thought is a major social issue, it is not a medical issue and I just don’t think healthcare is necessarily the right agency to be responsible for that.’

He said ‘there’s a conveyor belt’ of these ‘well-intentioned good ideas’ being rolled out to GPs in Scotland as well but ‘often what happens is that they get rolled out, there is lots of hype around them for a month or two and then they quietly are shelved, as they make little impact’. 

The rise of social prescribing

gardening 3x2

gardening 3x2

NHS England's GP Forward View raised social prescribing as one route to manage patient demand on GP services, and a recent King's Fund report said GPs should prescribe gardening to patients with conditions such as heart disease and dementia.

But GP leaders have expressed differing opinions over the role of social prescribing in general practice, with some arguing it provides GPs with alternative routes to manage patients who do not need traditional care and others branding it 'a waste of time.

Dr Arvind Madan, NHS England’s Director of Primary Care, has said that the 'ambition is that, eventually, every practice will have access to all the initiatives in the GPFV', including social prescribing options.

Readers' comments (27)

  • yes I agree with above, we are all so bored and under-worked at the moment we would all relish the chance to take on some more unpaid work

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  • Clearly a thoroughly well planned idea which is so good that GPs in greater manchester have not been informed of it until now, through the national media.

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  • In the latest edition of Commissioning Review Mike Dixon says (I think) a lot of places are doing it so it must be a good idea...!
    If this is what Commissioners think and how they act on evidence then no wonder we are in such trouble

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  • bring it on as it adds to the overall misery and will be helpful in pushing folks to the exit only then will we be able to rebuild a proper service.

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  • I have a headache

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  • We found Prime75+ project reduced consultations. Lifted morale. Very popular across the practices. http://goo.gl/25AH0m

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  • Could this just be yet another 'Revenue; Stream for the Private Companies running our Public Services?

    Turn the Lonely into a lucrative commodity?

    They rip up our Communities and our Families.
    Strip away support services and buy up the Charity Sector, offering buck with conditions often of silence.

    Now its time for the elderly.....

    And to use GP's as the middle man is disgusting.

    Seems to me they are designing a Complex Control System by stealth.

    I don't trust anything this Government Suggests.....

    Overwork GPs.
    Create constant change and Chaos.

    Then come up with ways to alleviate the burden...

    Stinks of manipulation and coercion to me.

    This is how Totalitarian States gain more control over the proletariat.

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  • Took Early Retirement

    Presumably GPs should do it between checking on people's boilers and making sure they are not a risk of radicalization, and, indeed, problem gambling.

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  • Is there any wonder med students don't want to be GP's?

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  • GP's are best place to replace befriending services.

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