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A new report from Healthwatch Gloucestershire presents local people’s experiences of social isolation and loneliness, and highlights initiatives that could be used to provide greater support for people living in Gloucestershire.

Widespread research highlights the detrimental effect of loneliness on people’s health, and Gloucestershire’s Health and Wellbeing Board has identified social isolation as an area that needs attention. Healthwatch Gloucestershire’s previous research has highlighted the impact of social isolation on people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, local health and social care champion, Healthwatch Gloucestershire, decided to find out more about loneliness and social isolation by asking local people about their experiences, and investigating what makes a difference and what could be done to help.

They heard from over 50 people via a survey and focus group (March-April 2021). They also spoke to organisations from across the country that are working to tackle loneliness and social isolation through voluntary and community services and the wider health and care system.

Watch the video to see what people told Healthwatch Gloucestershire: https://vimeo.com/606397583

Key findings from the public survey

  • Most people said they were lonely almost all the time, frequently or sometimes.
  • Key factors of loneliness identified were the COVID-19 pandemic; being single, widowed or divorced; and/or having a long-term health condition.
  • Most people said there are no opportunities to meet new people in their local area, though many were aware of groups that did offer the chance to connect with others. Some people highlighted issues around attending these groups including accessibility, poor transport, and a lack of groups outside of working hours.
  • Many people reported that they were dissatisfied with their current relationships, and some said they have no friends in Gloucestershire (but they have friends elsewhere).
  • Many people commented that they would find it difficult to ask for help, with some saying they would feel uncomfortable or embarrassed to do so.
  • Some people identified other problems such as financial difficulties.

How to make a difference

In the report, Healthwatch Gloucestershire highlights several different initiatives from around the country that are making a difference in their own areas and suggests that similar approaches could be used to help to tackle loneliness and social isolation in Gloucestershire. These include:

  • Click to read the summary reportStrengthening existing local organisations, activities, and facilities so that they can reach and support more people.
  • Using Social Impact Bonds to strengthen existing services or to invest in new support services.
  • Forming more special interest groups (also suggested by many survey respondents).
  • Raising the profile of Gloucestershire’s Social Prescribing services which provide one-to-one support and signposting to groups and services.
  • Use social marketing to help unify communities in Gloucestershire by generating conversations, building connections, and encouraging neighbourly gestures and initiatives such as community engagement activities.

Healthwatch Gloucestershire identifies a lack of coherence in the county’s current approach and recommends that a combination of initiatives should be used to support people in Gloucestershire.

Helen Webb, Healthwatch Gloucestershire Manager explained why they conducted this research and public engagement project: “Social isolation is as an issue for many people in our local communities and this has been intensified by COVID-19. Tackling social isolation and loneliness in the community and across the health and care system is a priority in Gloucestershire. We’ve shared the research and insight that we gathered with local health and care partners so that they can learn from local people about what it feels like to be lonely and isolated, how this affects people’s physical and mental health, and what support people would like but may not be feel comfortable asking for. We have presented a range of ideas to help develop and improve support for those who feel lonely and isolated in Gloucestershire.”

Commenting on the report, Jo Underwood, Transformation Programme Director, NHS Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group/One Gloucestershire, said: “We want Gloucestershire to be a county where the importance of our social infrastructure to improve connectivity and community cohesion is understood and acted upon, and in which loneliness and social isolation are recognised openly as something likely to affect us all.…This report highlights so many great examples of ways to achieve this and we’re lucky there is already a wide variety of initiatives available closer to home.  However, as the report’s participants illustrate, there is a long way for us to go before connection and support are available everywhere they are wanted.  The NHS with our Integrated Care System partners is committed to continuing to work together to co-ordinate our efforts and resources to tackle loneliness and isolation and the impact it has on our health and wellbeing.”

The report, Let’s talk about social isolation and loneliness in Gloucestershire, includes detailed analysis of the public survey findings and people’s comments; more information about loneliness and isolation, and details of several projects and approaches presented for consideration.

Read the full report  |  Read the summary report