News & Media

#LetsTalkLoneliness

17.06.2019

It would be easy to ask what on earth a property company can do to help tackle loneliness. Is there really a role for the bricks and mortar of primary care buildings in helping to connect people? Isn’t loneliness something we tackle through conversations, social media, creating opportunities to be with people and sharing experiences? Where those things happen doesn’t matter…does it?

In fact, what we find in our buildings across the country is more complex. The work of GPs and their teams is right at the heart of both supporting people with the health impacts of loneliness, and of helping people feel less lonely, as the NHS Long Term Plan’s emphasis on social prescribing shows. And the buildings GPs work from can do so much to support this.

Earlier this year, we worked with the Patients Association charity to explore how patients experience GP buildings. Among the things patients said they wanted to see in future primary care space was room for social prescribing and activities to help people feel less lonely: “Many of the suggestions made for buildings were about the ambience, the sense that people using the building were welcome, valued and held in mind. That buildings were a fundamental part of the community with services that were social as well as health related and addressed issues such as loneliness, isolation and depression.” And in our annual survey of GP practices working from our buildings, we asked what improvements to buildings would make the biggest difference to their work. Among the most popular responses were space for social prescribing activities to take place on site, and accommodation for a social prescribing link worker.

So space and building design is vital. Across our network of GP buildings are those which include libraries, community kitchens, rooms which are hired for yoga and café areas where community groups meet, formally and informally.

Indeed, some practices are already using our buildings to lead the way in this area – such as Frome Medical Centre in Somerset, which won a Points of Light award from the Prime Minister for its work on loneliness and was also visited by the Duchess of Cornwall.

Through our buildings, we’re also funding community projects to help people feel less lonely. We asked all the GP practices working from our sites to nominate the local activities which they feel make the biggest difference to health for their patients. We had a huge range of projects put forward, from community allotments to volunteer transport schemes, armchair yoga, bereavement befriending and walking groups. Most of the nominations shared the goal of helping people feel less isolated.

Among them was a Kent scheme to bring people together for a cuppa and a chat, nominated by GPs in our Montefiore Medical Centre building in Ramsgate.

The Grange Practice’s project plans to run a series of drop-in tea and chat sessions in the community as well as an afternoon tea party, a health barbeque in the summer and a Christmas get-together for patients who may be feeling isolated. Staff will volunteer to run the events, with the grant used to fund catering, venue hire and transport for patients who need help to get there.

In its nomination, the practice told us: “Our existing monthly drop-in session already helps lonely patients with their mental health and mobility – and has also been shown to reduce unnecessary appointments for patients who may only come to see the nurse or GP each month for a chat.”

Elsewhere, Dovercourt Surgery’s gardening project was another to receive a share of our funding. Watch why:

 

This week is national Loneliness Awareness Week, and as members of the national cross-sector Loneliness Action Group we’re proud to be supporting the #LetsTalkLoneliness campaign launching today. Community buildings like those housing primary care services can be a powerful conduit to help connect communities – we need to make sure they reach their full potential.

Claire Rick is our Head of Public Affairs

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