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GPs to prescribe phone calls to help the lonely

GPs prescribe phone calls to help the lonely

It’s a long-running bet on quiz shows to help struggling contestants — and now lonely and vulnerable patients are being given a chance to “call a friend.”

GPs will refer them to volunteers who are willing to listen and chat to improve their health and reduce social isolation.

More than 1,000 helpers have already signed up for the relaunched Check-in and Chat service, which is part of the NHS volunteer programme.

Pharmacists and other healthcare staff will also encourage those who would benefit from a chat ‘and a little encouragement’ to apply for the service.

Research cited by the Royal College of Nursing suggests that loneliness can be just as bad for health as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day with a higher risk of cognitive decline.

Lonely and vulnerable patients get the chance to ‘call a friend’

The NHS Volunteer Workers Program was set up at the start of the 2020 pandemic to support those who were isolated with tasks such as grocery shopping, fetching medicines and lifting.

The Daily Mail encouraged thousands to join the initiative during the lockdown with its Helpforce campaign. A total of 400,000 volunteers carried out 2.2 million tasks to support patients and the NHS.

The decision to bring back the service follows concerns that many patients had lost social contact during the pandemic.

A survey of health and care professionals whose patients used Check-in and Chat during lockdown found that nearly nine in ten said it could help again now.

Ruth May, head nurse for England, praised the volunteers who volunteered to make the ‘invaluable calls’.

READ MORE: Millions of young people feeling let down by the NHS are turning to TikTok

She added: “We know what a difference a phone call to the neighbors can make when you feel isolated or need some support.”

Professor Sir Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England, said: ‘NHS health teams can refer patients to this fantastic service which offers a listening ear and, where appropriate, explores what positive changes they can make in their lives.’

Catherine Johnstone, chief executive of the Royal Voluntary Service working with the NHS, said: ‘The timely relaunch of Check-in and Chat will once again provide support to those who need it most in the challenging months ahead.’

Meena Ram, 54, a Birmingham civil servant, volunteered at Check-in and Chat during the lockdown and has reapplied.

“Volunteering has gotten me through the pandemic,” she said. ‘Discovering NHS Volunteer Responders kept me busy.

“I couldn’t wait to volunteer again. I find it very satisfying. It’s an incredible feeling to know you’re making a difference in someone’s life.

“Knowing that you are the call they look forward to is really worth it.

“Some people who use Check-in and Chat may not hear from anyone else that day or week and it can be very moving to hear how grateful they are and how moved they are to hear their stories.

‘I have found a new passion in volunteering. I hope to continue to make a positive difference in people’s lives.’