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Patients should be referred to knitting groups to tackle loneliness, a top doctor has urged.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said loneliness was as bad for the health as obesity.

She said doctors should have a Wikipedia-style information page of activities for patients.

They could include charities, ‘Knit and Natter’ groups, art classes or walking clubs.

She called on GPs to undertake more ‘social prescribing’ for patients, where they are referred to activities rather than given drugs.

‘There are some fantastic initiatives already but we want this much more widely,’ she added.

‘For some people what they’ll need is a hand with debt counselling, for others it will be social stuff like ‘Knit and Natter’ or Contact the Elderly.’

Surveys have shown that one in 20 adults in England feel lonely either often or always. Another 16 per cent feel lonely some of the time.

Previous research has found that GPs will see up to five patients a day who are lonely, rather than actually ill.

Stokes-Lampard added: ‘Lonely people see their GP more because they have other health problems, but sometimes their GP is the only person they speak to – that’s why GPs are interested in loneliness.’