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GPs should encourage lonely patients to take up singing and arts classes, say NICE

Health regulator NICE is calling for GPs to signpost patients at risk from loneliness and isolation to local singing, arts and crafts and walking groups, to help them stay healthy and keep living independent lives.

In a new Quality Standard, NICE advisors said GPs should be offering a range of community-run activities to people identified as being at risk, to help them ‘build or maintain social participation’.

But the standard also says organisations such as councils – rather than GP practices – should be responsible for identifying elderly people who are most at risk and making sure there plenty of services on offer.

It comes after Pulse revealed NHS chiefs are pushing for GP practices to receive funding dedicated to social prescribing, on the back of various models to help people with housing, debt or loneliness problems – most of which rely on link workers operating within the practice with input from GPs.

NICE said people over 65 who, for example, have lost a partner recently, are living alone, or have had to give up driving are the type of people particularly at risk. GPs should be encouraging them to attend things like dancing and swimming clubs, arts groups and singing programmes or helping with reading in schools, as well as volunteering and befriending programmes.

Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham, professor of general practice research at Keele University and member of the advisory group that came up with the standard, said: ‘As a GP it is often difficult to identify older people at risk as you won’t necessarily know if they’ve had a bereavement or lost a job.

‘It’s really tricky to keep up to date with what services are available in a local area, as they come and go. As a GP it is difficult to remember exactly which groups are available each day, so I’m not able to be specific in the suggestions I give to patients.

‘We must also remember this is not mandatory and some older people do manage to maintain their health despite not socialising.’

Quality statements

Older people who are at risk of a decline in their independence and mental wellbeing are identified by service providers.

Older people most at risk of a decline in their independence and mental wellbeing are offered tailored, community-based physical activity programmes.

Older people most at risk of a decline in their independence and mental wellbeing are offered a range of activities to build or maintain social participation.

Source: NICE QS137 – Mental wellbeing and independence for older people


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