Publicado originalmente en Kent Current: http://centreforjournalismprojects.co.uk/kentcurrent/2019/02/12/more-social-prescribers-elderly-loneliness-in-kent/
The NHS announced that 1000 ‘link workers’ will be recruited to reduce GPs workload and help patients find activities to improve their health and wellbeing.
Link workers or ‘social prescribers’ can play an important role in the lives of older people suffering from loneliness and social isolation. They can refer them to different social groups, classes or sports clubs in the area where they can meet new people and become more sociable.
Each year, more older people are experiencing loneliness, and this move by the NHS could be key in tackling the problem in Kent and in the UK.
Around the county, there are many different activities and clubs for older people, where link workers can refer them to.
Nucleus Arts in Chatham has been holding creative workshops for the elderly and they aim to boost their participants wellbeing by placing an emphasis on social inclusion.
Their programme ‘Social Art’ is highly popular amongst the elderly and their class ‘Young at Art’ invites those over 55s to participate in a class with a professional artist.
Emma Welch, coordinator of the Centre, says that the social aspect of the classes is very important.
“Social isolation is one of the main things (issues). Just to get people out and about and meet people. The creative side of it is sort of a side-step, to the social aspect.
“But also, it’s people learning a new skill later in life. For the mature sector, these creative sessions are really, really important.”
Sue Carter has taken part of the classes for the past six months and says it’s highlight of her week.
“I think we all live for Thursdays, it sounds sad, but I think that when you don’t work it’s quite nice to have something to look forward to.”
For those looking a healthier lifestyle, Kent is also home to many sports clubs for the elderly. Walking Football has quickly become one of the most popular activities among older people and is widely practice around the county.
The Northgate Ward Community Centre in Canterbury runs two sessions every week and 81-year-old Denis Cleary says it a more enjoyable form of exercise.
“Before football I was walking about five, six kilometres a day but when this came along it was another way of doing it (exercise) and having fun at the same time.
“I come for the exercise, but it’s a more enjoyable way of exercising. And a great bunch of guys to do it with (exercise).”
Meanwhile others such as David Tedd, 72, are happy as they didn’t think they would be playing football at their age.
“One of my passions is playing football so being able to play football again at 72 was really good news.”
Link workers will not only be key for older patients with loneliness but also for GPs. According to the NHS, half of all GP appointments are not directly related to medical conditions and ‘social prescribers’ will provide a relief on their workload.
GP Julian Spinks says that link workers are necessary for the community.
“I reckon that about of third of the people I see need some sort of social prescription and I don’t have either the time or the knowledge to be able to do that myself.
“So, I do need people like link workers that I can pass people onto who have knowledge of the enormous numbers of clubs and other facilities available in local areas so that people can get what they need.”