Recent research in the English town of Frome in Somerset, UK has shown that there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of emergency hospital admissions since it started a project to create a sense of community.
This was achieved by community groups and volunteers supporting isolated people with health problems. Data shows a reduction in emergency hospital admissions by 17% during the three year study while elsewhere is Somerset there was an increase of admissions of 29%.
Researcher Julian Abel,stated: “No other interventions on record have reduced emergency admissions across a population.”
The Compassionate Frome project was led by Helen Kingston, a GP there. With the help of the town council and Health Connections Mendip, Helen's practice set up a directory of local agencies and community groups. When there were gaps they created new groups for people with each type of condition. They employed “health connectors” to help people plan their care, and trained voluntary “community connectors” to help their patients find the support they needed.
The support offered included handling debt or housing problems. Encouraging patients to join a choir, lunch club, exercise group, writing workshops or men’s shed (for men to make and mend things together).
The point of the project was to break a familiar cycle of misery due to isolation. People without strong social connections, or who suffer from social stress (such as rejection and broken relationships), are more prone to inflammation. Isolation causes inflammation, and inflammation can cause further isolation and depression.
The results of increasing the sense of community for the individual are comparable to the effects of giving up smoking and especially interesting was the fact that older patients with chronic diseases do not have higher death rates than those who are not suffering from chronic disease – as long as they have high levels of social support.