March 29, 2018

How one town made compassion a health priority

Resurgence & Ecologist -  Chronic loneliness increases the risk of early death by more than 20%. It’s what can happen when ailing people lack the surrounding presence of a compassionate community. But these days increasing numbers of otherwise healthy people also suffer from a devastating sense of loneliness and a consequent loss of self-esteem; so the plight of sick people is highlighting problems that reach beyond the provision of health care.

Recent developments in the Somerset town of Frome, in South West England, suggest that the most effective answer to such a growing crisis lies in the restor­ation of an active sense of compassion within the wider pattern of community life... The innovative work of the Compassionate Frome project has shown how, by translating impulses of kindness born out of concern for one’s fellow human beings into effectively organised social action, a town can do more than restore a sense of value and purpose in both carers and those in need of care: it can also bring significant practical and financial benefits to the whole community.

... By interlinking the health centre, the community hospital and social services with care provision available from local charities and other groups, and by then recruiting a growing network of individual volunteers, Compassionate Frome has devised a model that has significantly lowered emergency admissions to hospital, with consequent savings in costs. The scheme also carries considerable implications for ways in which the creative power of compassion might be applied to the enrichment of community life across wider society.

... In addressing the issue, the Compassionate Frome project identified four key areas for action: the mapping of all existing community resources and the subsequent compilation of a service directory; the formation of a network of willing volunteers, known as Community Connectors, offering support to those in need and guiding them to appropriate sources of help identified in the service directory; the formation of groups requested by members of the community to meet newly identified needs; and the creation of one-to-one support relationships through liaison with Health Connectors.

.... While emergency admissions to hospitals across Somerset have increased by 29%, incurring a 21% increase in costs, Frome has seen admissions fall by 17%, with a 21% reduction in costs. This represents 5% of the total health budget. No other interventions on record have reduced emergency admissions across a population.

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