PATIENTS in hospital will start receiving visits from four-legged friends in a bid to tackle loneliness.

Last summer Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust teamed up with Hexham-based Wag and Company to allow volunteers and their dogs to visit older dog lovers in their own homes.

Now patients on hospital wards in Northumberland and North Tynedale, including at Hexham, will benefit from the scheme.

The partnership, supported by the trust’s Bright Northumbria charity, is to help foster social interaction among patients and improve their experiences of being in hospital.

The scheme was launched at Hexham General Hospital last week.

Linda Gray and Ollie are among dozens of what are known as “visiting Wag teams” at the charity and took part in the launch. Linda, who routinely looks after Ollie, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, said: “Ollie is such a lovely-natured dog and he’s really friendly,” said Linda, who lives in Hexham.

“He adores meeting people and I so do I so we’re ideal for this role.

“Seeing the boost it gives to patients is hugely rewarding – it’s almost immediate and very real. I’m delighted to be able to play my part – with Ollie of course – and am very much looking forward to visiting patients in hospital.”

Diane Morton, founding director of Wag and Company, said: “Having these visits to look forward to has made all the difference to those people already referred by the trust and I can’t wait to see our teams on the wards!”

Gillian Messenger, the matron at the hospital, said: “We fully understand that being in hospital can be a lonely time for our patients, particularly those who do not have any family and friends popping in. For patients like this, especially for the dog lovers among them, having a visit from a furry friend can really brighten up their day and give them a much-needed boost.

“In addition, having social interaction with the volunteer can really lift patients’ spirits and can help them to feel better quicker and get back to their homes and loved ones.

“From the success of the partnership in the community we know the difference the scheme makes for people who may feel isolated and we’re looking forward to it benefitting many more.”