The Director of Public Health to present the Public Health Annual Report 2022/23.
The title of the report is ‘No Person is an Island: Social Connections in Gloucestershire’.
Siobhan Farmer, Director of Public Health for Gloucestershire, presented the Director of Public Health Annual Report 2022/23. The theme of the report for this year is ‘No Person is an Island: Social Connections in Gloucestershire’.
In her first annual report, the Director of Public Health, referred to the attached power-point presentation and highlighted the importance of social connections for good health and wellbeing. She explained that the report relayed some of the challenges that had been experienced to maintain social connections during the pandemic, and how this led to an increase in social isolation and loneliness. The report also provided an opportunity to showcase examples of work and activities to bring people together in Gloucestershire and made recommendations of proposed actions for individuals, communities and organisations to take forward to ensure Gloucestershire was a place which enabled connections.
Referring to the challenges experienced during the past three years, and specifically during the pandemic, it was estimated that over a million more adults throughout the UK had become chronically lonely during this time, impacting on young people, people living alone, people on low incomes or unemployed and people with mental health conditions. Despite the beginnings of recovery from the pandemic, the past year, (2022), had presented further challenges for many people. The war in Ukraine, the rising cost of living and the subsequent pressures on services that provide help to people, has emphasised the importance of the need to support one another other and to maintain social links and networks to keep everyone healthy and resilient.
It was reported that the impact on connecting had been witnessed across all ages and within all socioeconomic groups, although some groups had been more disproportionally affected than others, including children and younger people. It was suggested that, reduced opportunities to socialise with their peers had significantly contributed to feelings of loneliness amongst children and young people in Gloucestershire. Roughly a third of the students who had completed the Gloucestershire Pupil Wellbeing Survey during 2021-22 had indicated that the pandemic had adversely affected their wellbeing. Whilst impacting on the lives of every child in the country, the pandemic was likely to have had a particularly harmful impact on the estimated four million children and young people already living in poverty in the UK. On a more positive note, the pandemic had also brought new and innovative methods of communication, and had rallied communities into taking action to build on the benefits and values of increased social interaction.
Expanding on the differences between isolation and loneliness, it was explained that a lack of meaningful social connections can often lead to social isolation and loneliness. The words “social isolation” and “loneliness” are often used interchangeably, but are not the same thing. Social isolation is defined as ‘an objective state determined by the quantity of social relationships and contacts between individuals, across groups and communities.’ Loneliness can be defined as ‘a subjective state, based on a person’s emotional perception of the number and/or quality of social connections they need compared to what is currently being experienced’. People can be isolated, within a small social network, and yet not feel lonely; whilst people can feel lonely and yet be surrounded by people.
Highlighting the importance of ‘connecting’ as a means to improving people’s mental health, the Director of Public Health outlined the recommendations included in the report as ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’. These included; time spent with family and friends; joining a local community group or sports team; volunteering for a local charity; building up digital resilience to recognise and manage some of the risks people may come across when socialising or working online, and reaching out to those who may be at increased risk of isolation and loneliness.
Members also noted the recommendations included in the report to support connecting people within the wider community and to those impacted on by accessibility and environmental factors. Covering a large geographical area, Gloucestershire is recognised as being geographically challenging in terms of connecting people to friends, family, activities, and in delivering services to such a wide and largely rural area. Other challenges include those impacting on communities and groups who experience particular disadvantages in relation to accessibility, transport and mobility, including older adults, those with disabilities, young people, and those in rural communities. Acknowledging the challenges to people living in remote and rural communities, a member also pointed out the issues of loneliness and isolation that can be experienced by people living in urban locations.
Members were advised that a ‘Rural Proofing for Health Toolkit’, had been produced from which to support health and social care organisations when developing or reviewing strategies, initiatives and service delivery plans to improve service provision and outcomes for the needs of local rural populations. Key advice to organisations was to embed ‘rural proofing’ as an integral part of its strategy and planning making processes and not to assume all rural areas are homogenous. Needs may vary according to settlement location and size.
Other recommendations directed towards organisations included:
1) To not forget the importance of social connections as a mental and physical health promoter and normalise these conversations within the workplace;
2) When designing new buildings/spaces, to maximise benefits for local communities and involve them in the process;
3) To consider how spaces within the workplace or organisation can be used to enable social contact, for both staff, service users and customers.
4) To sustainably invest in voluntary and community organisations who have a vital role;
5) To consider how the organisation might encourage and enable volunteering and community participation;
6) To expand community access to the organisation’s buildings and outside spaces.
7) If relevant, to ensure services provided by the organisation to the public have both digital and face-to-face options.
Members noted the report and welcomed the work involved in addressing connectivity and accessibility issues. Acknowledging the positive feedback, the Director of Public Health encouraged members to share the report widely and to publicise the messages it contained.
One member asked for information on the TIC+ Charity, a Gloucestershire based charity, providing a range of mental wellbeing support for Children and Young People, including support provided to parents and carers via a Parents Support and Advice Line and from various parent support groups. It was noted that the Public Health Team only funded the TIC+ Chat element of the service offered by the charity.
Information on TIC+ usage covering the period 2018-2021 was circulated to members after the meeting and is attached to the minutes for information. For more details, please visit the charity website at the link here
The report was noted.