Britain should be ashamed of how elderly people are being treated in this country, according to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Mr Hunt said there was a collective “national shame” in ignoring the emotional needs of pensioners who after often isolated and lonely.
Speaking at the National Children and Adults Services (NCAS) conference, he insisted entering old age “should not involve waving goodbye to one’s dignity”.
There are currently around 800,000 people in England who are chronically lonely, according to the Campaign to End Loneliness.
A further five million, meanwhile, claim television is their main form of company.
He said that 46% of people aged 80 or over reported feeling lonely “some of the time or often”.
He warned that loneliness was as “bad for you” as “smoking 15 cigarettes a day”, was “worse than obesity” because of the risk of blood clots, heart disease and dementia, and warned that lonely people “drink more” and were more prone to early admission in residential or nursing care.
‘We know there is a broader problem of loneliness that in our busy lives we have utterly failed to confront as a society,’ Mr Hunt will say.
‘Each and every lonely person has someone who could visit them and offer companionship. A forgotten million who live amongst us – ignored to our national shame.’
He further said that the 112,000 cases of alleged abuse in care homes referred by English councils in 2012-13, the majority involving over-65s, indicated that “something is badly wrong”.
But, he added the regulation of care in both the private and public sector was improving.
The Conservative MP said the new chief inspector of social care, Andrea Sutcliffe, would start to give ratings to care homes from April 2014 with a view to organising inspections of all 25,000 care homes by 2016.
Mr Hunt said he was “particularly worried” about the 400,000 people in care homes, some of whom get regular visits but others who were just “parked there”.
Dr Alison Cook Director of External Affairs Alzheimer’s Society said:
‘People with dementia are often the hardest hit by loneliness but sadly the first to be ignored. With almost two-thirds of people with dementia feeling anxious or depressed, we must end this shameful cycle of isolation and neglect of some of the most vulnerable people in society.
It’s time for the care system to be reformed. The CQC certainly has a role to play in inspecting for high quality care. Care homes too must train staff so that people with dementia stay active and engaged. More widely, we need a shift in society’s attitude towards those with dementia so that they can stay active in their own community.’