The impact of loneliness and isolation on older people at Christmas can cause a major spike in admissions to accident and emergency departments, according to a leading urgent care doctor.
Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s director for acute care, said studies showed that patients left on their own over the festive period were more likely to end up in A&E with worse problems.
“We know there is a correlation between people who are on their own and admission to hospital”
He cited a recent study in the south west, which showed a clear link between social isolation and care needs in people over 75 admitted to A&E.
In the study, carried out by the South West Academic Health Science Network, frailty was not a key reason for being admitted, but 86% were admitted from their own homes and 45% said they were socially isolated.
He advised patients feeling “under the weather” to get treatment early and asked people to visit a pharmacy for minor ailments or cold and flu remedies, instead of going to their GP or local A&E.
He also urged the public to join NHS England’s Winter Friends Campaign, which encourages people to look in on an elderly friend or neighbour over Christmas to make sure they are warm and well.
Professor Willett said: “We know there is a correlation between people who are on their own and admission to hospital.
“We are calling on the public to think about those people living nearby who might benefit from a visit,” he said. “If they see other people they are more likely to mention a health problem and then are more likely to seek help early.”
Professor Willett also encouraged patients to order medicines in plenty of time and to make sure not to run out, and also to remember to take them with them if they were travelling to stay with friends or family.
He advised the public that if a frail or elderly friend or relative did feel unwell over the holiday, not to “let them soldier on to the new year” but seek early advice from NHS 111, a pharmacist or potentially their GP.
“We often see a sharp spike in emergency admissions at this time of year and we know that the majority of these are elderly people who have stored up a health problem at home and haven’t sought treatment early hoping it will ‘go away’,” he said.