Link Between Relationships And Health Is Ignored In The NHS

New Relate campaign calls for relationships to be put at the heart of the NHS to improve health and wellbeing and reduce pressure on the public purse

  • Only half (51%) of people with a life-limiting health problem or who are disabled and have received professional support say it has taken relationships into account effectively
  • A huge majority (91%) say they are not aware that relationship support is available for people with health problems or those who are disabled
  • Around 1 in 4 say their life-limiting health problem or disability has impacted negatively on relationships with partners, friends, family or colleagues
  • People with a life-limiting health problem or who are disabled are more likely to report a ‘bad’ relationship with partners
  • Relate launches ‘The Best Medicine’ campaign, calling on central and local government to put relationships at the heart of the NHS

The link between relationships and health is too often ignored in the NHS, finds a new report released today by leading relationships charity, Relate and think tank, New Philanthropy Capital (NPC).  The report calls for couple, family and social relationships to be put at the heart of the NHS. Ultimately, claims the report, this will improve health and wellbeing for the 15 million people in the UK* living with long term physical or mental health conditions and reduce pressure on the public purse.

The charity has also released results from two YouGov polls today. Despite clear evidence that good quality relationships can prevent, delay or minimise the effects of health conditions, only half (51%) of those with a life-limiting health problem or who are disabled and have received professional support said it has taken their relationships into account effectively.  A further 21% said they feel the support they received hasn’t considered their relationships at all.**

The results also illustrated how the effects of living with health conditions are impacting the nation’s relationships.  Around 1 in 4 people with a life-limiting health problem or who are disabled said their condition has impacted negatively on relationships they have or have had with partners (24%), friends (25%), family (23%) or colleagues (33%).** In the second survey, the same group was found to be more likely to report a ‘bad’ relationship with their partners (5%) than other respondents (2%), and more likely to report having no close friends (13% compared to 7%).***

The Best Medicine campaign

Relate is today launching ‘The Best Medicine’, a new campaign which calls for a more ‘relational’ health system. The charity is recommending:

  • A Government inquiry into how the true value of relationships can be recognised in the NHS.
  • The Health Secretary to become the Health and Wellbeing Secretary, with relationships and quality of life for carers and people with health and care needs explicitly in his team’s remit.
  • Clinical commissioning groups and local authorities to undertake a ‘family test’ when considering new local policies.

The campaign is being supported by a host of charities including Mind, The Stroke Association, Alzheimer’s Society, Prostate Cancer UK, Breast Cancer Care, the National AIDS Trust, Body and Soul, Headway, The James Whale Trust for Kidney Cancer, The Mental Health Foundation and The British Lung Foundation.****

The Best Medicine will raise awareness of the critical link between relationships and the nation’s health and wellbeing.  For example, 55% of people who have been in a relationship said that it has helped them to better manage their health condition or disability.**  Yet when we need our relationships most, it’s clear that the effects of having a physical or mental health condition can pile on the pressure. Excellent relationship support is out there to help, but too few people get access to it and a staggering 91% of those polled weren’t aware of it.**

Ruth Sutherland, Chief Executive of Relate, believes the status quo must change. She said: “Relationships are good for our health, and health can impact on our relationships, but this clear link isn’t reflected in NHS policy. In a time of huge pressure on public spending, and when health conditions are the main cause of increased demand on the NHS, it makes no sense to leave relationships out of the picture. We need to find new ways to prevent and manage long term conditions. Today’s report shows that relationships could hold some of the answers.

“That’s why Relate is calling on national and local government to put relationships at the heart of the NHS.  I’m asking everyone to sign our petition today to help make excellent relationship support more accessible at the point of diagnosis and beyond. We’ve got the opportunity to improve millions of lives here, as well as our society as a whole.”

Inger’s story

Inger Wallis, 53, from Bloomsbury in Central London, is married with two daughters and a young grandson.  She was diagnosed with a haemorrhagic stroke in 2009.  Inger said: “My stroke has had an enormous impact on my relationship with family. My husband and I became less intimate and my daughters’ health and life choices have also been affected.  Despite the hard times, it has also brought out the best qualities in all of us as we have helped each other through. The NHS supported us wonderfully with my physical health, but I think we would have really benefitted from counselling to deal with the changes in our family life if it had been offered.”

Dan Corry, Chief Executive atNPC said:

“I think we all suspect that few things are more important to good health than having good friends and good relationships. But we have not always been clear how strong that link is. Now this report brings together the sound, reliable research into just how important relationships are to the health of the nation. Policy makers and charities need to read it and respond.” 

How Relate can help

To find out more about The Best Medicine campaign and to sign the petition, visit Relate can help peoplewhether they are struggling to deal with a diagnosis and the fallout, need help telling others what is happening, or are supporting someone else. Relate’s trained counsellors provide impartial and non-judgmental information, support and counselling for all stages of the journey.