Loneliness among older people is putting huge pressure on local services and must be taken more seriously as a major public health issue, council leaders have warned.
With more than one million over 65s thought to be affected, a growing body of evidence suggests loneliness is leading to a rise in health and social care referrals.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said the issue increases the risk of premature death by 30% and that GPs say they see between one and five lonely people every day.
The LGA has produced a report with Age UK and the Campaign to End Loneliness, Combating Loneliness, to offer guidance to councils.
It said examples of best practice across the country must become the norm. For example, a social prescribing scheme run by Rotherham Clinical Commissioning Group enables GPs to spot the signs of loneliness and ‘prescribe’ support from voluntary and community services.
So far the initiative has led to positive change among 83% of participants and has reduced inpatient admissions by 21% and A&E attendances by 20%.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, LGA spokesperson for public health, said: ‘Council public health teams are taking action and reducing the need for health and care services in the future. The impact of loneliness can be devastating and costly – with consequences comparable to smoking and obesity.
‘This can be prevented with early intervention, which a number of councils are already successfully delivering in partnership with volunteer and community organisations.’
Marcus Rand, director of Campaign to End Loneliness, said: ‘Loneliness is a serious social and public health issue that must be urgently addressed. It is affecting the lives of a million older people in the UK on a daily basis.
‘Local authorities have a key role to play in providing effective policies and solutions on the ground and this new report is a much welcome tool to help deliver effective and practical support to those in need.’