Prescription pups: could getting a dog on the NHS be the answer to lockdown loneliness?

In the wake of rising lockdown loneliness, leading medical law firm Patient Claim Line is questioning whether alternative, more holistic treatments could be the answer – perhaps in puppy form.

From sharing cat memes online to posting videos of dogs doing tricks, there’s no denying that Brits love sharing content about animals. But studies have shown that interacting with animals does more than just boost your social media profiles.

According to the US National Institute of Health, interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood .

So, could regular visits with a dog-tor be the answer to the UK’s loneliness pandemic?  Leading medical law firm Patient Claim Line think so.

“Pets are a great way to enhance social interaction,” explains animal lover and medical law expert Jennifer Smith. “When out walking a dog, you find people stop and speak to you more often than if walking by yourself. You do not even have to own a pet to gain from these benefits.”

“Dog and cat lovers can get involved with their local animal rescue centres to help walking the dogs or with fundraising which brings the benefit of a hobby and interaction with like-minded people with similar interests.”

“Further, there is the exercise that comes with owning pets. Taking the dog for a walk or cleaning out the fish tank or cage gets you away from the computer screen and helps improve your mood if you have had a stressful day at work.”

Almost a quarter of adults living in the UK have experienced loneliness during lockdown, according to the Mental Health Association . But the UK’s loneliness crisis started long before lockdown, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness, which states that the UK is currently having a ‘loneliness epidemic’ and that loneliness could be costing the economy £32billion a year . Mental illness represents the single largest cause of disability and wider costs to the national economy in terms of welfare benefits and lost productivity at work. Experts estimate the impact to be around £77 billion a year .

With a rise in mental health issues comes a rise in costs. The NHS in England planned to spend £12.2 billion on mental health in 2018/19, roughly one in every ten pounds spent by the Department of Health and Social Care .

In light of the rising spending figures and increase in mental health issues during lockdown, leading medical negligence law firm Patient Claim Line is questioning whether more alternative, holistic treatments may be better. Perhaps in puppy form.

“Therapy dogs may be a more cost-effective means than perhaps more invasive means of therapy, and the patient may be more willing to engage in such treatment,” explains Jennifer Smith, Litigation Executive at Patient Claim Line. “If the person is an animal lover, there may be more willingness to attend treatment appointments which again will help save money. Missed GP appointments cost the NHS £216million a year .”

The average salary of a therapist in the UK is £33,043 per annum according to Payscale.com. According to the PDSA, dogs typically cost between £6,500 and £17,000 over a lifetime, and up to £105 a month. Twenty-six dogs could be supplied for the same cost of one therapist .

Of course, improving access to mental health resources is not as simple as prescribing dogs to patients. There are many variants of different mental health issues ranging from mild anxiety to more disabling psychosis conditions which will require their own specialist treatment plans.

However, Patient Claim Line hopes their comments will inspire investigation into complementary and alternative therapy medicine, which is currently limited on the NHS . The firm also hopes to highlight the importance of patients having access to the right treatment for them.

7.3 million people are on antidepressants in the UK – that’s 17% of the adult population . Antidepressants are associated with withdrawal . Whilst medication may be the right treatment path for some patients, it’s crucial for long-term health that patients are not prescribed medication that they do not need, that the long-term side-effects of medication is properly explained to them and that other treatment options are explored. According to a 2019 poll of 12,000 people by mental health charity Mind, just 21 percent of patients that were taking psychiatric pills were definitely told about potential side-effects.

“If you think you’ve been recommended the wrong treatment or diagnosis on the NHS, then you could complain to the GP or Trust,” explains Jennifer. “But this will not result in any compensation for pain, suffering and other financial losses that you may have incurred as a result of your wrong treatment or misdiagnosis. There is also the option of instructing solicitors to investigate if the incorrect treatment and/or diagnosis is serious enough to be negligent. Medical negligence solicitors are skilled in legal proceedings and will quickly be able to let you know if you have a claim.”

And it’s not just mental health patients who could benefit from alternative treatment options and lifestyle changes.

A charity called Hypo Hounds already trains and uses dogs to smell blood sugar levels in their owners’ breath. The dogs can detect dangerous levels earlier than a glucose monitor.

Regular exercise can also reduce the symptoms of heart disease and risk of heart attacks . Dogs could offer an incentive and an accessible way for people to get into exercising and walking. According to a 2019 survey conducted by Patient Claim Line, almost two thirds of Brits do not know how much exercise they should be doing to maintain a healthy lifestyle, so daily walks with a pet could be a good way to enforce exercise guidelines.

Whilst it is unlikely the NHS will prescribe pets, Jennifer notes that society can make bigger lifestyle choices to impact mental health during lockdown.

“Adjustment to lifestyle may have similar benefits to that of having a pet. Exercise has repeatedly been raised as being a good way to combat stress and improve mental health. Also, to get involved with projects, charities or groups which interest you to boost social interaction with like-minded people and again reduce stress.”
Patient Claim Line concludes that while prescription pets are a novel idea, what really matters is that patients get access to the right treatment path for them, and that their values and needs are taken seriously.

If you or someone you love has received the wrong treatment or diagnosis, then Patient Claim Line can help. Speak to a legal advisor for FREE on 03300 080 352 or visit our website.

About Lisa Baker, Editor, Wellbeing News 4370 Articles
Editor Lisa Baker is passionate about the benefits of a holistic approach to healing. Lisa is a qualified Vibrational Therapist and has qualifications in Auricular Therapy, Massage, Kinesiology, Crystal Healing, Seichem and is a Reiki Master.