The importance of staying connected
Anna Goodman from the Campaign to End Loneliness explains what they are doing to encourage local authorities to re-design policy and services to keep us connected in older age.
It is now under a year until every top tier and unitary authority will have to have a fully-functioning health and wellbeing board, as directed by the recent passing of the much-opposed Health and Social Care Act 2012.
Although they do not guarantee the integrated health and social care they are designed to promote, they do (in the words of the King's Fund) offer "new and exciting opportunities to join up local services, create new partnerships with GPs, and deliver greater democratic accountability".
They are therefore (we hope) a chance to take a more holistic and county-wide approach to wellbeing, going beyond pure clinical or physical need to commission services that meet a range of needs - whilst avoiding the 'gaps' that can often appear between health and social care services.
As the body that will set and monitor strategic health and care priorities for a county or large city, they are most third sector organisation's new target audience. For us, of course, it is loneliness in older age that we want councils and the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to take notice of - and take action on.
Having a seemingly-soft and single issue to raise awareness of does present some difficulties - why should commissioners include loneliness in their health and wellbeing strategies, when there are so many other things they have to deal with, such as smoking cessation, diabetes or obesity?
But we think loneliness is just too important - and too significant a health and public health issue -
to overlook. Research shows the effect of loneliness on mortality exceeds the impact of factors such as physical inactivity and obesity, and is similar to the effect of cigarette smoking.
Lonely individuals are also at higher risk of hypertension and are more prone to depression and dementia. The risk of Alzheimer's disease almost doubles in older adults suffering from loneliness.
So, this month we started a new 'Raising Awareness' project which will aim to achieve a commitment on reducing loneliness from health and wellbeing boards across the country. To do this, we plan to harness the power of local advocates, charities and campaigners who are passionate about improving the quality of life for older adults in their area.
We believe that demonstrating local awareness of, and commitment to doing something about, the issue of loneliness is an important first step for getting an issue on the local health agenda. We are starting in just six pilot areas but will develop a campaigner's handbook to help others campaign in their community.
The Campaign will be getting things started, providing training if required, but all six campaigns will be locally led as each area presents unique challenges and opportunities. In Cornwall, for example, they often have couples retire to the county, abandoning their 'convoy' of support from friends or family. Once one person dies, the partner is alone and without a wider network.
In Essex, our second area, they are also currently running a 'Whole Essex Community Budget' pilot as well as implementing the health and wellbeing board - a huge amount of work but also great opportunity for improving care in older age.
As health and wellbeing boards will be really focusing on the needs of the local population and local assets available to them, we hope these campaigns will encourage commissioners to re-think and re-design their whole approach to ageing well - including considering how we can all work together to alleviate or prevent loneliness in older age.
The Campaign to End Loneliness is a coalition of organisations and individuals working together through research, policy, campaigning and innovation to combat loneliness and inspire individual to keep connected in older age in the UK. For more information or references, please visit our website: www.campaigntoendloneliness.org.uk
PreviousInnovation in Action: Gusto