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The waiting game

Four in 10 GPs 'regularly' see lonely patients who are not unwell

Four in 10 GPs say they 'regularly' see patients who are lonely and do not require medical attention, according to findings from a new survey.

The majority of the 769 GPs taking part in the survey - 61% - also agreed that 'loneliness is a much bigger problem in today's society than 10 years ago'. 

Meanwhile, 34% said treating lonely people has a 'major' impact on their time and NHS resources, according to the survey, which included answers from GP partners, salaried GPs and locum GPs.

The findings form part of an ongoing wide-ranging survey by Cogora – the company that publishes Pulse and sister titles Healthcare LeaderManagement in PracticeNursing in Practice Pulse and The Pharmacist – as part of the sixth annual Primary Concerns report.

Readers of Pulse and its sister publications were asked about the current state of primary care across the UK, including their experience of dealing with lonely patients. 

Commenting on the results, GP leaders said young patients as well as older ones were becoming increasingly vulnerable to loneliness and said the recruitment of more social prescribers by the NHS would help to alleviate problems.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'It’s not uncommon, as this survey shows, for GPs to see patients because they are lonely as this can have a big impact on their physical and mental health and their overall sense of wellbeing. It’s something that can affect people of all ages, and with the rise of social media, younger patients are just as susceptible.

'There often isn’t an easy solution for these situations, which is why GPs will increasingly link patients with social prescribers – recommending patients join a community group, take up a new hobby, or meet likeminded people; something to help them regain a sense of purpose and in turn, improve their mental and physical wellbeing.'

He added: 'We now have social prescribers in England to help connect people to local initiatives and reduce pressures on the health service, but it’s vital that these groups, clubs, and classes, which are often dependent on local government funding, continue to receive the support they need for this scheme to have a long-term impact.'

Forner RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard previously said that loneliness and social isolation can be as 'damaging to health as long-term conditions'

Last year, the RCGP launched a UK-wide campaign to tackle the 'epidemic of loneliness', calling for every GP to have access to a social prescriber.  

The Government has since pledged that GPs will be able to refer lonely patients to community activities and voluntary services by 2023

The Cogora survey is open from 14 November 2019 to 19 December 2019 inclusive. Cogora is offering respondents the chance to win a £250 John Lewis voucher as an incentive to complete the survey.

Cogora invited people to complete the survey through newsletters sent directly to each publication’s readers, and by way of advertisements on the publications’ website home pages. It was also promoted through the publications’ social media channels.

Readers' comments (9)

  • Shows that 1. Line between social work and Gp is wafer thin and not in a good way for GP and 2. That DSM 6 will surely invent a bill-able drug-able disorder from this

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  • I thought it was parents' responsibility to teach their children how to socialise/make friends, and to themselves be part of the support network......

    Consequence of breakdown of family units, irresponsible parenting, incentivising of single parenthood, broad welfare provision, etc

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  • This is why psychiatrists have morphed into "social policeman"

    Could GPs please start diagnosing social depression as "Adjustment disorder" rather than "Major depression"

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  • GPs should stop prescribing SSRIs to people who do not meet the indication criteria for the indications these drugs were invented for. Of course how would you enforce this in the nhs of today with patients seeing different GPs every time they come in. If you never prescribed or initiated a particular medication why should it be your responsibility to prescribe it if you a. Don’t agree that it should have been prescribed in the first place and b. Don’t believe that it has any beneficial effect to the patient. Socialism meddling in medicine produces unhappy and poorly treated patients and fed up clinicians who aren’t allowed to do their jobs properly

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  • @Prashant: GPs only code 'major depression' (ie psychotic), because secondary care puts the patents on addictive major tranquillisers like Quetiapine, instead of pointing them at non-drug measures that could actually help cure them.....
    Harry : you HAVE to agree with the prescriber, or could get into hot water with the GMC...

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  • I am sorry but currently the country is at least 6000 GPs short, is it best use of qualifications, experience and time to deal with issues such as this. I always used to joke that one day we would also become the 'botty-wiping police' and have to visit patients after each bowel opening to check that cleansing was adequate in order to prevent pruritus ani. The ever increasing medicalisation of anything that isn't a perfect happy life can't be managed by the current reduced GP workforce I am afraid.

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  • 1. You can have major depression without psychosis

    2. Since when are anti-psychotics addictive?

    3. We do use non-pharmacological methods

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  • Ditch the running GP commentary of social documentation in patients’ notes. This might change the culture to one of actual medical provision instead of one of social day centre service provision which is what UK general practice has become to a large extent.

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  • Harry -- I shake your hand spot on

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