Dr Hilary Jones speaks of 'ridiculously tragic loneliness epidemic' in visit to Leeds

Dr Hilary Jones.
Dr Hilary Jones.

Medical broadcaster Dr Hilary Jones has said that levels of loneliness in the UK are "ridiculously tragic" but claimed that all forms of it are "fixable" during a visit to Leeds.

Law firm Clarion brought together specialists to discuss the issue in Queen Street, aimed at healthcare and social care businesses, local authorities and charities.

The Loneliness Summit yesterday asked what private and public sector organisations are doing to beat the loneliness "epidemic".

Dr Jones, 66, who is known for giving medical advice to television audiences, said: "I started off talking about GP's perspective. We see loneliness and social isolation all the time in general practice. One of the stats I used was that GPs will see anywhere between two and five people each surgery purely because they're lonely.

"And that's fine, a GP's role is to give emotional support to those people who are isolated and segregated - but there's so much more that wider society and social groups and organisations in both public and private sector can do."

He said that the consequences of loneliness can include a 40 per cent increased risk of dementia and an increased risk of anxiety, depression, suicide, coronary heart disease, strokes and their resulting emotional impact.

The ways that social groups, lunch clubs, cafes and new technology could provide solutions to loneliness were discussed at the summit.

Speaking about the impact of loneliness on society, Dr Jones said: "I think it's got worse. If you look at other societies around the world we're not good at looking after our lonely folk.

"We all lead busy lives but society has fragmented. I think a lot of older people particularly don't feel that they belong in their neighbourhood, that neighbourhood has changed a lot, there's less opportunity to have social gatherings. I think family dispersal means that the children and the grandchildren, brothers and sisters have moved hundreds of miles away so they don't see so much of them."

He added: "If people are immobile, frail, disabled, they feel they can't get out of their house as easily and they can't do the things they once enjoyed. Perhaps they've been widowed, perhaps they've lost friends.

"There are lots of reasons for loneliness but all of them are fixable potentially, it's never too late to make friends, never too late to engage and became more socially active, have the confidence to stay physically active by wearing sensors or using the technology which enables them to feel confident about leaving the house, going out and somebody will know where they are and come and look after them should anything happen."

Examples of technology include alarms which detect people who fall, apps which monitor the changing behaviour of a relative or call centres which respond to "so called accidental" alarms "which basically reflect that people are lonely and want someone to talk to".

Dr Jones said: "When seven per cent of the population might might not see a human face for a month at a time in a country where there's 63 million people, that's just ridiculously tragic isn't it?"

The event also included speeches by Becca Hawkins, a research fellow and lecturer in qualitative health research at the Leeds Institute of Health Sciences at the University of Leeds, and representatives of Friends Against Scams and Tunstall Healthcare.

Dr Jones is a GP, TV presenter, medical broadcaster, author and public speaker.

He qualified in 1976 at the Royal Free Hospital in London having studied art subjects at A Level, then converting to a six-year medical degree.

In 1979 he worked for a year as the single-handed medical officer on Tristan da Cunha, the "most isolated inhabited island in the world", in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Then in 1981 he worked as a troubleshooting GP and emergency doctor for the oil industry at Sullom Voe in Shetland for offshore medical support.

He became a principal in General Practice and a GP trainer in the early 1980s and worked as a senior house officer in opthalmology before entering general practice, assisting in glaucoma and cataract extraction procedures and learning the science of refraction.

Dr Jones then began presenting educational medical TV programmes for British Medical TV in 1986.

Sky TV adopted the programmes for their news bulletins soon after.

In 1989 Dr Hilary Jones joined the breakfast station TVAM.

He and Lorraine Kelly were the first presenters to be signed up by GMTV when it won the breakfast franchise in 1993 and is now the health editor for ITV’s breakfast television.