Updates & Info
A free 24-hour dedicated helpline for older people across the UK has been launched by Esther Rantzen.
'The Silver Line' aims to combat loneliness in the over-65s by providing friendship, information and advice through calls to trained volunteers.
Chairwoman Ms Rantzen said she hoped the phone line number, 0800 4 70 80 90, would be remembered by all older people when they needed friendship or advice.
The phone line is funded by a £5m grant from the Big Lottery Fund.
The Department of Health has said that loneliness causes serious physical and mental damage. More than half of the UK's over-75s live alone.
"We will signpost them to the services in their community, and by showing them we value them and care about them we will restore their confidence and feelings of self-worth."
She added: "It is tragic that older people are so undervalued and isolated that they believe life is not worth living and that they are no longer part of the human race."
Last year, the Campaign to End Loneliness estimated that more than a million people in the UK feel trapped in their homes and around five million older people consider television their main form of company.
Volunteers answering helpline calls will be encouraged to befriend older people and make regular friendship calls to them over a period of months.
Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said: "In our busy lives we too easily forget the thousands of older people who often go for days without seeing or speaking to anyone, or rely on the television for company.
"This service will help provide people with the companionship and support they deserve in their older years."
During an earlier pilot phase in the North East and North West of England, the Isle of Man and Jersey, the helpline was able to answer 7,000 calls from older people.
The helpline can be used by older people throughout the UK.
The charity Age UK, which runs its own telephone befriending service, welcomed the launch of Silver Line.
A spokeswoman said: "Older people can get in touch with their local Age UK to see how the charity can help through a range of services such as befriending which might include home visits and telephone calls for people who are feeling lonely or isolated.
"If anyone is worried about an older person this winter call Age UK Advice on 0800 169 65 65 for expert advice. Lines are open from 8am to 7pm, 365 days a year."
If you are feeling very distressed, despairing or suicidal and need immediate help please contact your GP and request an emergency appointment, contact the Samaritans on 116 123, or go to your nearest Accident and Emergency Department.
If your GP surgery is not open, you can contact the NHS Out of Hours Medical Service on 111. NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Calls are free from landlines and mobile phones. You should use the NHS 111 service if you urgently need medical help or advice but it's not a life-threatening situation. If you feel at harm to yourself or from other – go straight to your nearest Accident and Emergency.
If you are concerned that someone else is very distressed and might be considering suicide please encourage them to contact their GP and make an emergency appointment. Alternatively you might wish to encourage them to speak to the Samaritans on 116 123.
If you are concerned that someone is about to act on thoughts of hurting themselves you might wish help them attend the nearest Accident and Emergency Department. Alternatively, you may choose to contact the Police on 999.
Similarly, if you become concerned that someone is at risk of hurting somebody else
If you feel you need to talk to someone in confidence, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on:
Tel: 116 123
(TEXT MESSAGE ONLY number available on 07725 909090)
There are also local Samaritans branches across Hampshire and Dorset.