“Moral obligation” to tackle loneliness, says MP Dan Poulter

Dr Dan Poulter MP is shown around the new day unit at St Elizabeth Hospice.

Dr Dan Poulter MP is shown around the new day unit at St Elizabeth Hospice.

A campaign to tackle isolation and loneliness among thousands of older people in Suffolk has been so successful that the rest of the country should learn from it.

That’s the view of health minister and Suffolk MP Dr Dan Poulter, speaking after it emerged the EADT’s Shine a Light on Loneliness campaign has had a huge response.

Run jointly with Age UK Suffolk, it tackles the growing social problem of isolation - it is estimated 15,000 older people in the county go a month without speaking to a friend, family member or neighbour.

But since the campaign’s launch in January, more than 100 people have approached Age UK Suffolk about volunteering, befriending, or providing day services.

Dr Poulter, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, said society had a “moral obligation” to help.

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“The more we can do to support and encourage more people to come forward the better.

“The work being done by support groups in Suffolk are examples of how we can better look after people, many other counties could learn from it.”

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Sharron Cozens, interim chief executive at Age UK Suffolk, said: “Some people can perceive loneliness as an inevitable part of growing older, but something can be done. Sometimes making a difference is as easy as saying ‘hello’.

“If you know someone who is on their own, then make an extra effort such as striking up a conversation while out walking your dog.

“Telephone befriending makes the world of difference to both the volunteer and the befriended through the richness of conversation.”

She added: “Loneliness is a trend that isn’t going to go away, and as the older population grows, we may see that number go up.

“By making people aware of the campaign and we can then link people to networks in their community such as a club or a coffee morning.

“If you stay at home long enough, you don’t exercise and you have limited social interaction, you could become depressed. You may then need anti-depressants which can be a great expense to the health service.

“Let’s not even get there and just start off by saying hello.”

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter said the key to ending loneliness was a combined community effort.

He said: “A small amount of day to day contact can relieve loneliness.

“It can be as easy as going round and having a cup of tea with someone who may not have other social contact during the week.

“Age UK Suffolk has set excellent examples of setting up groups like coffee mornings.

“I’ve seen it first hand that some of the coffee mornings are perhaps the only opportunity in the week to get out of the house and talk to people.

“It can be an hour or two of someone’s time but it makes a huge impact.”

Dr Poulter also said Age UK Suffolk was educating older people on the latest technology, so they can keep in touch with friends and family members who may not be close by.

He added: “Older people have worked hard all of their lives contributing to Suffolk, and have done a lot to make our country a better place to live, and it’s right we do everything we can to support those people.

“We have a moral obligation as a country to support these people who need extra help when they become older and isolated.

“Having someone else look in on older people can really help.

“I have seen as a doctor in the past sometimes people have turned up in accident and emergency because they hadn’t had early enough support.

“There’s a huge benefit stream. The older person can be supported with their day to day lives, and if they are running into difficulties or a few problems, there is someone who can be of help to help them to engage with GPs and carers out there to provide additional support.”

Dr Poulter added support groups in Debenham and Wickham Market, to name two, were already helping other groups outside Suffolk.

“We have a lot to be proud of in our community groups in the way we are looking after vulnerable people,” he added.

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