Loneliness has become a social epidemic and it’s harming health, RCN congress hears

College members want RCN to work with ministers to tackle loneliness

College members want RCN to work with ministers to tackle loneliness

Picture: iStock

The nursing profession must work with politicians in all parts of the UK to tackle loneliness, RCN congress decided.

Members voted to urge the college council to work with ministers to address the issue.

It is hoped this will improve the ability of nursing staff to recognise loneliness and its effects.

Zeba Arif. Picture: John Houlihan

‘The problem is escalating’

Zeba Arif of the RCN’s outer north west London branch, which proposed the resolution, said tackling loneliness was essential because the problem is getting worse.

‘In just a few decades, loneliness has escalated to a social epidemic’ she told the hall.

Ms Arif said loneliness is responsible for myriad health issues, ‘up to and including suicide’.

She said research showed loneliness was more harmful than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and evidence showed it can increase premature death by around a third.

Effects seen in the healthcare system

Community nurse Annique Simpson, from the RCN’s outer south east London branch, said chronic loneliness led to demands on health services because those affected were more likely to develop conditions such as depression, heart problems and dementia.

Ms Simpson said 'It affects A&E, schools, wards, discharge lounges, GP surgeries and is behind closed doors in the community.

Annique Simpson.
Picture: John Houlihan

‘If we don’t know how to spot loneliness, don’t have the tools to assess for it and don’t know how to support our lonely patients and who to refer them on to, then we are not providing a holistic assessment and holistic nursing care as per the NMC code.

‘We need to raise awareness of this, we need the training tools to recognise where this exists and we need pathways in place.

‘We don’t all have this training, this info at our disposal, so we ignore it, I know we are time-poor but that is not an excuse – just because loneliness is not a visible wound, we must not ignore it.’

Other nurses shared personal stories about how loneliness had affected their well-being.

Read all our coverage from RCN congress 2019 

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