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To support and not to cure: general practitioner management of loneliness

Jovicic, Ana and McPherson, Susan (2020) 'To support and not to cure: general practitioner management of loneliness.' Health and Social Care in the Community, 28 (2). pp. 376-384. ISSN 1365-2524

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Loneliness is associated with numerous detrimental effects on physical health, mental health, cognition and lifestyle. Older adults are one of the groups at highest risk of loneliness, and indeed about 46% of older adults in England feel lonely. Those experiencing loneliness visit their general practitioner (GP) more frequently than those who are not, which has the capacity to put a strain on GPs and primary care waiting lists and costs. This study's aim was to explore GPs' views and experiences of loneliness within their older adult patients, and to understand GPs' awareness and feelings of agency within this. Nineteen UK GPs were recruited using purposive sampling and snowballing techniques. Individual semi‐structured interviews were conducted either in person or over the telephone. Data were analysed using thematic analysis. Four overarching themes were identified from the data: Whose responsibility is it anyway?, Pandora's box of shame; Keeping distance; and Community responsibility. Themes emphasise that GPs tend to hold a medicalised and individualistic view of loneliness. This intensifies stigma which in turn creates barriers to raising the topic. GPs felt powerless in their ability to fix the ‘problem’ and tended to believe that the solution had to lie in the community, the individual or in social care rather than in primary care. The findings are discussed in the context of literature on GP management of other social problems which give rise to similar issues concerning the restrictions of the medical model and the need for joined‐up approaches in which the GP is one part of a wider social support structure. It is suggested that it might be useful for training and support for GPs to address management of social problems jointly rather than training specific to loneliness which GPs tend to see as peripheral to their core remit.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: general practitioners; loneliness; older adults; primary care; qualitative; thematic analysis
Divisions: Faculty of Science and Health
Faculty of Science and Health > Health and Social Care, School of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2019 08:59
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2022 14:05

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