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‘Loneliness has impact on health’

20 February 2015

Diocese of Hereford

Speaker: Dr Andy Watts

Speaker: Dr Andy Watts

LONELINESS is as important a factor in a person's health as more obvious conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy, and GPs should take greater note of it when treating their patients, a conference organised by the Hereford diocese has heard.

Dr Andy Watts, a GP and chairman of Herefordshire's Clinical Commissioning Group, said: "I think we don't quite realise what impact loneliness has on our health. Strong social connections, such as friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues, improve our odds of survival by 50 per cent."

He told delegates that he knew how many of his patients were epileptics or diabetic, and what their weight and blood-sugar levels were, but he had no idea how many were experiencing isolation.

Speaking after the conference "Combating Loneliness: The Healing Power of Community", Dr Watts explained that GP surgeries used codes to identify various conditions on patient records, but coding loneliness was not obligatory.

"Unfortunately, not all GPs appreciate how important a characteristic it is," he said. "They might think of it as a descriptive term, not worthy of coding, rather than a clinical one.

"It would be helpful if we knew that patients were at risk because of isolation, or a loved one had just passed away, and they were on their own, dealing with other medical issues. Some conditions are a hell of a lot to cope with when you have got no one to talk to.

"You might be more careful with the medication you prescribe or its complexity, and there might be all sorts of changes you might make in your behaviour as a GP if you knew that that person was on their own or isolated."

The conference was opened by the Church's lead bishop on healthcare issues, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, who told delegates: "The task of tackling social isolation is one with which the Church must engage."

Presentations from the conference, which was chaired by the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Frith, are available on the diocesan website:


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