The NHS has warned that it is expecting an increase in hospital admissions over the festive period, as elderly people turn to A&E due to loneliness and isolation.
Prof Keith Willett, National Clinical Director for acute care at NHS England, said hospitals and ambulance services are under enormous pressure, with 440,000 visits to A&E last week, six per cent more than the same period last year.
People are more likely to report health problems if they have someone to talk to, Prof Willett said: "If they see other people they are more likely to mention a health problem and then are more likely to seek help early." On the other hand, those who are socially isolated are more likely to experience a worsening of their condition, and end up being admitted to A&E: “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”.
Age UK reiterated the warning, saying that nearly 400,000 people aged over 65 were worried about being lonely this Christmas. Just over half of all people over 75 live alone, and five million say that the television is their main companion.
Lib Dem minister Norman Lamb said: “For too many people Christmas is a time when loneliness becomes so acute as to be almost unbearable. It’s the loneliness that gnaws away at us, steadily eroding our self-esteem and putting our mental and physical health at risk.”
The NHS is urging friends, relatives and neighbours to check on elderly people over the Christmas and New Year period so that older people feel less alone and conditions are kept under control.