LONELY pensioners make 30 million visits a year to the doctor – just to have someone to talk to, an alarming survey has found.
As many as one in 10 of those over 65 in England does so to break out of isolation.
The survey found three in four family doctors said between one and five elderly patients a day visit them due to loneliness.
Some had even higher rates of lonely patients, with 11 per cent saying they saw up to 10 patients a day and four per cent saw even more.
Yet almost half of the doctors questioned did not think they were able to help lonely patients, and only 13 per cent thought they could really make a difference.
Kate Jopling, director of the Campaign To End Loneliness, which undertook the study, said: “Far too many people are feeling so lonely – and are so at a loss about what to do about it – that they end up going to see their doctor.
“It’s time we committed to a more co-ordinated public health response that targets resources towards better support for lonely people, and prevention of loneliness for those at risk. I know that many doctors will feel frustrated at not being able to help their patients but there are things they can do.
“There are many schemes, both public and voluntary, that can help lonely older people and the first step for doctors should be to signpost these to patients.”
Figures suggest almost three million people over 65 are lonely. One million suffer from chronic isolation while two million describe themselves as lonely “sometimes or often”.
The poll’s findings follow comments made last month by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who claimed loneliness among older people was a “national shame”.
He said: “There are more than 800,000 people in England who are chronically lonely.
“Five million people say television is their main form of company – that’s 10 per cent of the population
“Each and every lonely person has someone who could visit them and offer companionship, a forgotten million who live among us – ignored to our national shame.”
There has also been widespread condemnation of social care organisations that spend just 15 minutes visiting elderly people, leaving many to choose between having help to get dressed that day or help to eat.
Recent research has found that living a solitary lifestyle is a serious public health issue and that a lack of social connections in day to day life is as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.