County pledges to prioritise loneliness

Richard Webb, North Yorkshire County Council's Director for Health and Adult Services
Richard Webb, North Yorkshire County Council's Director for Health and Adult Services
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TACKLING loneliness and social isolation among both the oldest and youngest members of North Yorkshire’s communities has been underlined in a crucial document that will focus health and social care priorities in the area over the next three years.

North Yorkshire Health and Wellbeing Board has published a draft update of its strategy, the document which sets key health and social care priorities and is used by the local authority and other providers to guide funding decisions.

A previous version of the strategy had been given a ‘gold’ rating by the Campaign to End Loneliness, partners in The Yorkshire Post’s loneliness campaign, for including measures to tackle the issue, which can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Making significant mention of loneliness is a key element of our campaign, and since it launched in February 2014, seven Yorkshire authorities which previously failed to make mention of loneliness in their health and wellbeing strategies have pledged to take action.

North Yorkshire’s draft update, which is now out to public consultation, is partly based on feedback from local residents and includes numerous references to tackling the issue, which is particularly relevant to the county given the ageing population.

By 2021, there will be a third more people aged 80-plus in North Yorkshire compared to 2011.

But it’s not just the elderly - the new strategy includes ensuring that rural isolation does not have a negative impact on children.

Richard Webb, North Yorkshire County Council’s director for health and adult services, said: “What The Yorkshire Post’s campaign highlighted was that loneliness or social isolation can happen to anyone, anywhere.

“Since the last strategy was produced, around three years ago, the agenda has moved on and loneliness and social isolation are much more at the fore, and we’ll be using what is already going on in our different areas to help refresh our strategy for the future.”

That includes learning from what has been provided in the £1m Innovation Fund, which was announced in August specifically for projects tackling loneliness.

The new strategy is divided into four themes: connecting communities; starting well – promoting childhood health; living well; and ageing well - encouraging people to take steps to enjoy a healthy, independent lifestyle for longer.

Reducing depression and anxiety by preventing loneliness is key to the community pledges, which includes creating dementia friendly communities, and improving technology in rural areas.

The risks of isolation and loneliness among older people living in rural areas, especially those with a disability or long-tern illness, is also addressed, with the Board pledging to make sure fewer people feel socially isolated by 2018.

Mr Webb said the council had already seen evidence of this among the people involved in projects funded by the Innovation Fund. “Levels of loneliness can be quite difficult to measure, but we’re already getting a sense of what a difference they are making,” he added.

The authority is also looking separately at how the specific mental health impacts of loneliness is addressed.

The consultation is running until August 19 via www.northyorks.gov.uk/jhwsconsultation. There will also be information events across the county over the coming weeks.