Daily Mail

GPs to prescribe phone calls to help the lonely

- By Colin Fernandez

IT’S a long-running gambit on quiz shows to help struggling contestant­s – and now lonely and vulnerable patients will have the chance to ‘phone a friend’.

Family doctors will refer them to volunteers who are ready to listen and chat, helping to boost their health and reduce social isolation.

More than 1,000 helpers have already signed up to 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 bit of encouragem­ent’ to request the service. Research cited by the Royal College of Nursing suggests loneliness can be as bad for health as obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes daily with a higher risk of cognitive decline.

The NHS volunteer responders programme was set up at the start of the pandemic in 2020 to support those who were isolating with tasks such as shopping, getting medication and lifts. The Daily Mail encouraged thousands to join the initiative with its Helpforce campaign during lockdown. In total, 400,000 volunteers carried out 2.2million tasks to support patients and the NHS.

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

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

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, praised the volunteers who have signed up to make the ‘invaluable calls’.

She added: ‘We know what a difference a neighbourl­y phone call can make if you’re feeling isolated or need some support.’ Professor Sir Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: ‘NHS health teams can refer patients to this fantastic service which offers a listening ear and, where appropriat­e, explore positive changes they could make to their lives.’

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

Meena Ram, 54, a civil servant from Birmingham, volunteere­d with Check in and Chat during lockdown and has signed up again. ‘ Volunteeri­ng is what got me through the pandemic,’ she said. ‘ Discoverin­g NHS Volunteer Responders kept me busy

‘I couldn’t wait to be a volunteer again. I find it very fulfilling. It’s an incredible feeling to know that you are making a difference in someone’s life.

‘To know that you are the phone call that they are looking forward to is really rewarding.

‘Some of the people that use Check in and Chat might not hear from anyone else that day or that week and it can be very touching to hear how grateful they are and very moving to hear their stories.

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

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