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
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
"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