AN "unprecedented" number of leading charities and organisations have come together to call on the First Minister to act on loneliness and isolation in Scotland warning it is a "significant threat to public health and blights society".

The new Action Group on Isolation & Loneliness in Scotland (AGIL) which includes at least 11 groups, have made six asks including setting up a 'tackling loneliness fund' to help provide resources to communities to help end isolation.

AGIL also want the government to set up a loneliness task force and improve monitoring.

Age Scotland research reveals that right now there are 100,000 older people – 50 years or over - in Scotland who feel lonely all or most of the time. They say some 200,000 older people in Scotland go at least half a week without a conversation with anyone – with only their TV or pet as company.

And the Association for Psychological Science says loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

HeraldScotland: TOUGH TIMES: Social isolation and loneliness is a growing problem among the elderly.

Chronic loneliness affects mental and physical health, from increased risks of depression, anxiety and dementia, to increased risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems.

It is estimated that loneliness costs the NHS £12,000 per person affected.

AGIL, which includes such charities as Age Scotland, British Red Cross and Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland say they want Nicola Sturgeon to "be bold and demonstrate leadership" in order for Scotland to become "the world leader" in successfully tackling loneliness and social isolation.

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They say the Scottish Government "must regain the initiative and invest resources and political capital into it".

In January, social security minister Jeane Freeman said that communities were best place to tackle the problem of loneliness while unveiling an Scottish Government consultation on plans to deal with isolation.

Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland on behalf of AGIL said: “The steps the Scottish Government has already taken to address this issue are positive, but it now needs to become a top priority of the First Minister. The Scottish draft strategy to tackle loneliness may have been the first of its kind, but since then other countries have overtaken us.

HeraldScotland: Brian Sloan

“The negative impact that loneliness and social isolation is having on the lives of people in Scotland is acute and is approaching epidemic levels.

“Loneliness does not discriminate by age, gender, community, background or wealth, but we know that older people are most likely to be affected.

"Now is the time for Scotland to be bold in its approach.”

Anne Callaghan of the Campaign to End Loneliness added: “Loneliness is still one of society’s great stigmas and affects all ages. We all have a part to play in combatting it as individuals, in our communities, businesses and wider civil society. It must become easier for people to make quality connections in their everyday lives and the Scottish Government has the leadership role in delivering the conditions for this to flourish."

Two weeks ago, Theresa May announced a loneliness strategy for England and Wales which could see people prescribed cookery classes and art lessons on the NHS GPs would be encouraged to refer patients to social activities and voluntary services instead of drug-based treatments as part of the new cross-party government strategy.

The plans also involved enlisting postal workers to check up on the elderly and socially isolated during their delivery rounds in a scheme being piloted in Liverpool, the seaside town of Whitby and New Malden in southwest London.

Ms May said £1.8m of new funding was being made available to tackle the problem of loneliness.

The plans were inspired by the work of the late Labour MP Jo Cox, who set up a cross-party commission on the issue before she was shot dead by a far-right extremist in June 2016.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Social isolation and loneliness can affect anyone, at all ages and stages of life. We know there is also a link between loneliness and poor physical and mental health and that this can impact on everyday life. We are leading the way when it comes to tackling this and later this year we'll publish the final version of our national strategy to address loneliness and isolation.

"This is an important issue and we hope that our strategy will be the first step towards building a more connected Scotland where social isolation and loneliness are reduced."