The role of Agherton’s parish nurses in combating loneliness is highlighted in a new report on the topic from the Northern Health and Social Care Trust.
The ‘Northern Area Loneliness Framework’ outlines a framework for tackling loneliness and social isolation across the generations.
In a foreword to the document, Health Minister Robin Swann writes: “There is growing recognition that loneliness is becoming a serious issue across all of our population and it can contribute to poor health outcomes and pressures on our health and social services. It is an issue we simply cannot afford to ignore as we know loneliness is as damaging to our health as smoking 16 cigarettes a day.”
He adds that the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated isolation and loneliness.
The report reveals that there are currently four Locality Loneliness Networks within each council area in the Northern Trust. Chief Executive Jennifer Welsh writes: “I look forward to the day when a Northern Ireland Loneliness Strategy is launched.”
Agherton Parish appointed the first parish nurses in Northern Ireland in October 2019. Since taking up their roles, Eileen Irwin and Noelle McNinch have been working to improve the mental and physical well-being of parishioners and the community.
In the Northern Area Loneliness Framework, Eileen and Noelle are featured as part of the Causeway Loneliness Network making up packs for distribution to isolated people during the pandemic.
The rector of Agherton, the Rev Malcolm Ferry, said the inclusion of the parish nurse scheme in the document shows the importance of church engagement in local health initiatives.