Watch: Loneliness debate. David praises Dursley doctors and our 'village agents'
Dursley GP, Dr Simon Opher and his colleagues were praised in the House of Commons on Monday by Stroud MP David Drew as part of a debate on loneliness.
Speaking in a debate about the cross-Government Loneliness Strategy, Mr Drew told the Minister about the pioneering work undertaken by the Dursley GPs to combat loneliness.
“Some of the early work on social prescribing was undertaken in Dursley in the Stroud constituency by Dr Simon Opher and his partners,” said Mr Drew, Labour MP for the Stroud constituency.
He also praised the work of village agents to help reach out to older people.
“We also did some work on village agents… which involved going out into the villages and making sure that older people were, first, looked after, but, secondly, able to claim the benefits to which they were entitled.”
He asked the Government to give Village Agents more support.
“Will the Minister have a word with the DWP and give some greater impetus to that particularly good scheme?” he said.
Tracey Crouch, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, responded by asking Mr Drew to write to her with further details.
The first cross-Government Loneliness Strategy includes proposals for all GPs in England to be able to refer patients experiencing loneliness to community activities and voluntary services by 2023.
Tracey Crouch MP opened the debate and dedicated the publication of the strategy to the late Jo Cox and stressed the importance of the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness.
Steve Reed MP responded on behalf of the Opposition and described; "loneliness is one of the great social ills of our age.”
Dr Opher, of the Walnut Tree Practice in May Lane, Dursley, is a pioneer in ‘social prescribing’ and will be launching a campaign later this month to increase creative activities to boost public health and tackle loneliness.
“We have had an artist in residence for the last 18 years or so, and used all forms of social prescribing since then,” said Dr Opher.
“Loneliness is a huge problem in the UK. In older people being lonely and isolated has the same health risk as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Every day as a GP I am presented with problems that are related to loneliness and social isolation.”
Dr Opher hopes to launch a new programme to promote doing two hours of creative activities each week as a public health campaign, to be run as a pilot in Gloucestershire.
“Mental health is a crisis in this country and although we need to fund better care, we also need to try and prevent mental health from worsening,” said Dr Opher, who will be holding a meeting in the House of Lords next week to launch the scheme.
“There is now good evidence that being creative for two hours a week improves mental wellbeing. We are trying to promote this message. Gloucestershire, and Stroud in particular, has led the way in social prescribing and using arts in health care, and this county wide scheme is the logical next step.”