Health and Social Care Integration
Looking at Loneliness: Integration in Practice
Befriending Networks is the infrastructure body which provides support for befriending services across Scotland, and promotes befriending as a valuable addition to the spectrum of social care support for marginalised or vulnerable people.
This year we took to the road with our Health and Loneliness Roadshow, facilitating seventeen workshops the length and breadth of Scotland, sharing information with professionals from health and social care settings at all levels about the impact of loneliness on health.
The workshops aimed to emphasise why loneliness is an issue that needs to be tackled, and to identify possible solutions. Regardless of role – whether strategic, operational, or on occasion, at elected member level – participants from across these sectors contributed to the discussion, learned from one another, networked, and exchanged views about how services could and should work to support people experiencing loneliness. They also discussed why loneliness is of huge relevance to the health and social care sector, and-crucially-what the impact will be on health and social care services of/if failing to address the issue.
We were massively encouraged by the level of engagement at these events. Approximately seven hundred people participated, and in some areas have gone on to form their own ‘loneliness networks’ to identify strategic and practical approaches to tackling loneliness in their locality.
Loneliness is deadly. There is an often oft-quoted statistic which is probably, by now, quite familiar: loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Less well known is the evidence that, among older people, loneliness doubles the risk of developing dementia. We know that there is a huge increase in the number of people living with dementia. Chronic loneliness is a preventable condition, which means that a large number of people are developing dementia who could be supported to avoid it. Loneliness is also associated with heart disease and blood clots, and increased use of alcohol. A 2006 study of 3,000 patients with breast cancer found those without close friends were four times more likely to die than women with 10 or more friends.
It’s a killer.
So what’s this got to do with health and social care integration?
In order to be able to give the service user the best experience possible (which is likely to be all of us at some point in our lives), services need to be aware of what the preventable issues are, and work jointly to tackle them.
Our roadshows elicited suggestions from participants across the health and social care spectrum about how they could work differently, within existing resources, to identify and support people who are chronically lonely. Participants demonstrated a real willingness to think creatively, to learn from one another, and to find out about the crucial role of befriending services in providing essential, person-centred support for people who are lonely and socially isolated. We were hugely encouraged by their readiness to work in an integrated way to find solutions. It is this creativity and, crucially, focus on the beneficiary rather than on obstacles and challenges, which will be necessary at a national level, if health and/& social care integration is going to be successfully achieved.
If the seven hundred or so participants at our roadshow events are typical of the sector, there are grounds for considerable optimism about the future.
For more information, please contact Liz Watson from Befriending Networks: firstname.lastname@example.org