The day was a mixture of presentations and small group discussion. We heard case studies of the work being done by agencies such as Purbeck Good Neighbours to tackle social isolation and loneliness. Debbie Ward, Chief Executive of Dorset County Council, stressed the need to intervene early and prevent people from becoming lonely.
I realised that preventing one person’s isolation can have greater unforeseen positive consequences and gave the example to attendees of how a Dorset Macmillan Advocacy volunteer advocate enabled a person to regain confidence after their cancer treatment so that they did not become socially isolated but instead returned to driving and resumed taking three older neighbours out every week.
Our discussion group included one of the POPP Board members and Andrew Archibald, Head of Adult Services for Dorset. We considered the factors that contribute to loneliness and social isolation, the role of Public Health and where responsibility lies; how much responsibility rests with the individual themselves not to become isolated and how many factors may be beyond a person’s control such as simply outliving peers, partners and even children as well as illness and disability.
I was reminded of the original call to action of the Campaign to End Loneliness entitled Safeguarding the Convoy, a title based on ‘Jenny de Jong Gierveld’s concept of one’s personal ‘convoy’: the assembling of family, friends, social contacts, work, passions and pastimes, resources and assets which you take forward through life, and which secures your confidence and enables you to lead the life you choose to the full. This convoy travels with us through our lives, but is prey to assaults and losses along the way, especially in later life.’
Paul French a retired GP who is now on Dorset CCG’s Governing Body as locality chair for East Bournemouth and the clinical lead for Mental Health and Dementia regretted that GPs cannot do more. He described true social isolation as a chronic condition which could lead to persistent loneliness. He felt that social and health care commissioners should work together to support those who are socially isolated through initiatives such as Better Together. Above all he said that GPs themselves need to be aware of the issues and work with local authorities and the voluntary sector to provide support using Social Prescribing.
Dorset Macmillan Advocacy staff team and volunteers continue to work on raising awareness of our service with GP surgeries across the county. We aim to prevent a cancer diagnosis from becoming the trigger for social isolation and loneliness and to reduce isolation and loneliness for those already affected.
Kathleen Gillett, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy