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Royal Voluntary Service blog
Find out about the people behind Royal Voluntary Service in our series of guest stories from our volunteers, staff and partners.

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Understanding Loneliness: the Challenge of Christmas

On a sunny afternoon this week I attended an excellent half-day interactive workshop called Understanding Loneliness: the Challenge of Christmas, held by the Campaign to End Loneliness in partnership with Independent Age, in London at the magnificent Friends House in Euston. With spring around the corner, it was strange to be thinking back to Christmas but it is an event which organisations like ours plan for throughout the year.

The workshop explored some of the challenges and opportunities that Christmas presents to organisations dealing with loneliness, and drew on case studies from experts in the field including the Silver Line, Community Christmas, The Abbeyfield Society, Crisis and Waitrose and Dr Tracy Collins from Salford University.

We now know research has found that loneliness has an effect on mortality that is similar in size to cigarette smoking and that there are direct impacts on physical conditions such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease and is associated with poor mental health and dementia.

Loneliness is a huge issue with our previous research identifying more than one in five older people are lonely. It is a sad reality that too many older people who live alone rarely see friends, family or neighbours, sometimes going months without having a conversation with another person.

So why is loneliness such a cause for concern at Christmas? For many older people Christmas can be a very lonely and isolating time of year. We know that many older people spend Christmas Day by themselves, without the support of friends or neighbours. Royal Voluntary Service research last year found that 230,000 said that they would spend the day alone.

At the workshop we learned that many organisations close their doors at Christmas, but demand does not simply go away. At Royal Voluntary Service thanks to the hard work of many of our volunteers and staff, work does not stop. Over Christmas we hold a number of Christmas lunches and parties for groups of older people including music, a Christmas lunch, a present and transport. We continue to deliver Meals on Wheels and make sure that people on their own will see at least one friendly face and enjoy a hot meal on Christmas Day and many of our shops and cafés in nearly 300 hospitals remain open.

A key message that can be taken home from Tuesday’s event is that there are many ways you can make someone else happy at Christmas, and you don't even have to give up lots of your time. Loneliness can have a massive impact on so many people's lives – but a small act of kindness can go a long way to changing that. Everyone can make a difference all year round and remember, ‘a volunteer is for life not just for Christmas’!

Posted by Sarah Mcloughlin, Royal Voluntary Service Research Officer at 10:01 Friday, 28 February 2014.

Cuts to subsidised bus routes in Wales can have devastating impact on older people

Sally RiversOver the last three years, nearly 100 subsidised bus routes in Wales have been cut, with further cuts expected as local authorities seek to make savings.

The scale of these cuts to public transport in Wales is very concerning. Royal Voluntary Service’s research found that more than 18,000 older people in Wales feel trapped in their own home due to a lack of suitable transport; in order to stay happy and independent it is vital that older people are able to stay connected to their communities. We also know that cuts in funding to transport can have a devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of older people who rely on these services to keep in touch with friends and family, get to doctor’s appointments and shop for food.

We understand that local authorities have difficult decisions to make about where cuts need to be made, but vital services like transport should be protected at all costs.

Posted by Sally Rivers, Royal Voluntary Service Head of Operations for Wales at 00:00 Thursday, 20 February 2014.

A&E attendance on the rise for older people

The latest figures produced by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, released last week, show that there were 18.3 million attendances at A&E departments recorded between April 2012 and March 2013, a 4.0 per cent increase on attendances in 2011-12 (17.6 million). Major A&E departments dealt with 14.3 million attendances, a rise of 340,500 attendances (2.4 per cent) on 14.0 million attendances in 2011-12.

The new figures show that almost three out of ten attendees at major departments arrived by ambulance. However, older people were much more likely to arrive by ambulance; this equated to six out of ten 65+ year olds (63.1 per cent or 1.9 million) and eight out of ten 85+ year olds (82.0 per cent or 664,900). The age group with the highest number of A&E attendances (who arrived by ambulance or helicopter) is the 80 to 84 year-old age group (416,776 or 9.5 per cent).

The NHS has seen increases in real terms expenditure throughout the period. In the earlier years of the period, the year on year increase in this expenditure was higher than in the most recent years. The period has also seen a rise in the number of emergency admissions. One factor contributing to this is likely to be the increased demand on health services from an ageing population. In 2012-13 19.4 per cent (3,556,284) of attendances were for patients 65 and over, up from 19.0 per cent (3,344,018) in 2011-12.

The pressures on A&E are well documented and the Government has set aside additional funds to mitigate these pressures. But we also know that there are admissions to hospitals that are avoidable. A study by the Care Quality Commission at the end of last year found the number of older people being admitted to hospital in an emergency, with conditions which could have been avoided - such as pneumonia, malnutrition and pressure sores - is far outstripping the growth in the older population. Those admitted with avoidable conditions is up from 374,000 in 2007/8 to 530,000 in 2012/13.

Another stark reality is that the emergency readmission rate for older people aged 75 and over nationally is 15%. The number of older people being readmitted within 28 days now stands at a staggering 201,000 up from 187,000 in the last year.

At a time when Commissioners are having to make difficult choices there’s a great opportunity for the government to speed up the prevention agenda and use the voluntary sector to support older people with low level care needs. Frequent actions as simple as a weekly visit from a volunteer, a lift to a doctor’s appointment or help with basic tasks such as shopping for food can reduce the number of older people ending up in A&E unnecessarily. Also a volunteer on hand when an older person is discharged from hospital can help reduce by around half the numbers of older people having to face the daunting prospect of being readmitted to hospital shortly after arriving home.

A 2013 Royal Voluntary Service report on our Home From Hospital service in Leicestershire found that those older people who had volunteer support when discharged from hospital were over 50% less likely to be readmitted to hospital in the first six weeks.

Posted by Steve Smith Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Monday, 03 February 2014.