Receptionists working at desk

Innovative loneliness training set to relieve pressure on health services

NHS Property Services (NHSPS) are joining forces with Campaign to End Loneliness to roll out a training programme that will give NHS receptionists the tools to better recognise when patients are presenting with signs of loneliness.

This potentially trendsetting initiative is the fist-of-its-kind and will centre around upskilling receptionists by educating them on things like the key risk factors related to loneliness, identifying and supporting those deemed at risk, and self-care.

The programme initially began last month as a pilot in Stockport but, such was the success of the trial, the scheme is now getting a nationwide expansion which is expected to reach almost 400 NHSPS receptionists up and down the country.

Hilary Stables, Chief People Officer, NHSPS, said, “Our NHS receptionists are the first port of call of people accessing medical services and are therefore in a prime position to make a difference, so we are excited to be partnering with Campaign to End Loneliness to upskill our receptionist teams in spotting and supporting those suffering from loneliness.

“We are committed to supporting the NHS in creating healthier communities, including through tackling loneliness, which can negatively impact both mental and physical health.”

As NHS services continue to be affected by backlogs, causing staff to be overburdened and therefore more and more stressed, the training comes at a key time for the health sector – a survey by the Royal College of General Practitioners found that 75% of their GPs reported that between one and five consultations are about loneliness, every single day. By equipping receptionists with the skills to tackle loneliness at its first point of presentation, this training can relieve some of the pressure on GPs and let them focus on delivering world-class care to more patients.

The programme also comes at a key time for patients as we all continue to navigate through the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic – research has shown that the effect loneliness and isolation has on mortality is comparable to the impacts of both obesity and smoking. Further research has suggested that merely reducing a person’s loneliness from ‘severe’ to ‘moderate’ has the same effect on their wellbeing as the average person has when they get a £9,537 salary bump; so if the workforce is upskilled to deal with loneliness at the first point of contact effectively and efficiently, it could have a profound effect on all stakeholders.

Robin Hewings, Programme Director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, said, “Loneliness can lead to a host of health issues, including an increased risk of stroke, high blood pressure, dementia and depression. More than 22 million people in Britain, around one third of the whole population, have felt lonely some of the time or occasionally.

“This worrying statistic highlights loneliness as one of the key issues facing our society today. By partnering with NHSPS on this training programme, we will help NHS reception teams to direct lonely people to specialist services to get them the support they need, whilst also freeing up GP time.”

More information on the new training programme is available here.

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NHE May/June 2024

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