NHS Highland launches loneliness and isolation campaign

Drakies 4
Drakies Primary School pupils help launch the initiative

NHS Highland has launched a new campaign to combat loneliness and social isolation in the Highlands and Argyll.

‘Reach Out’ will invite members of the public, companies and various organisations to complete a ‘pledge’ form in which they will undertake to carry out a task of their choosing to address loneliness. These tasks can include anything from chatting to an elderly neighbour twice a week to organising a social event or social opportunities for lonely people.

The pledge form will be published on line – on NHS Highland’s website, and on social media platforms such as Twitter and a dedicated Facebook page – and will be made available to a wide range of organisations in print form. Suggested tasks will appear on the print form.

A particular focus of the campaign will be on NHS Highland staff, and they are being invited to sign up to the pledge either on a personal basis or in a professional capacity. Entire teams and services are being invited to consider ways in which they could contribute to lessening the problem of loneliness.

The Highland Community Planning Partnership has agreed to adopt the campaign as its ‘breakthrough achievement for community planning’, with the aim that member organisations commit themselves to attaining designated pledge targets.

NHS Highland plans to organise similar events in other parts of its vast area over the next few months.

Drew Hendry, MP for Inverness, Nairn and Badenoch, attended the launch event at Drakies Primary School in Inverness last week. He told pupils and around 100 guests that he believed Reach Out would make a “big difference” for people who felt lonely, and he praised the school and for its participation in the campaign.

“I think it is a fantastic venture,” he said, adding that he pledged to hold one of his surgeries at a subsequent Reach Out event, and to take forward the issue of loneliness “to deliver as much change as we can to improve people’s lives”.

The campaign launch was held to coincide with Drakies Primary’s weekly community café, a new initiative in which the school opens its doors to neighbouring residents, giving them an opportunity to meet up for a chat and a cuppa.

Joanna Macdonald, NHS Highland’s director of adult social care, said: “The community café is a great idea, and its aims chime perfectly with those of our Reach Out campaign. It’s all about making friends, being good neighbours and perhaps helping people in the community who may be lonely.”

Cathy Steer, NHS Highland board’s head of health improvement, added: “There is very strong evidence that loneliness and social isolation can have a major impact on people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing. For example, loneliness increases the risk of dying earlier by 10 per cent, and it can have the same impact on health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“We hope that, faced with facts like that, people throughout the Highlands and Argyll and Bute will embrace our campaign and further enhance the area’s already strong reputation for friendliness.”

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