Choose NHS services wisely as cold weather sets in

Published: 30th November 2017

NHS services in the North East and North Cumbria are experiencing additional pressure as the cold weather sets in and are issuing a plea for members of the public to use services wisely.

As temperatures plummet, an increasing number of people are affected by coughs, colds and sore throats, as well as more serious breathing problems.

With a wide range of illnesses affecting more people in the winter months, the NHS is focused on helping patients to get access to the right services to meet their needs.

More GP practices than ever before are now open for appointments later in the evening and at weekends.And there is a range of medicines and quick advice available from local pharmacies to help with coughs, colds, sore throats, upset stomachs, aches and pains and other common symptoms.

Dr Jonathan Slade, NHS England’s Deputy Medical Director, in Cumbria and the North East, and a practicing GP, said: “Emergency departments across the region are starting to get extremely busy and we’re asking people to really think about their health needs and how best to seek advice and help.

“Everyone knows where their local emergency department is and when it is open - and understandably people often default to that - but there are many other services, including GP surgeries, which are now open longer hours providing treatment for a wide range of non-emergency health needs.

“NHS 111 can also provide advice, and signpost people to the most appropriate service to address their needs, and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“When emergency departments are busy, the patients with the most pressing and life-threatening needs will always be seen as a priority.

“Coughs, bad cold and sore throats can make you feel awful for one to two weeks but symptoms can be helped by using over-the-counter medicines from local pharmacies and taking it easy at home.

“Parents concerned about their child’s health can download the NHS child health app, created by doctors, which provides up-to-the-minute advice about how best to treat common childhood illnesses.Using the correct advice from the app can give parents the confidence to know they are taking the right course of action to help their child.”

The NHS always sees a rise in emergency admissions to hospital at this time of year, particularly amongst older people, who are much more vulnerable to serious illness or injury during the cold winter months.

Dr James McFetrich, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital, Cramlington, said: “Please think carefully about whether you need to come to an Emergency Department. Our team’s skills are in treating people with life-threatening injuries or illness and there are many patients who come to the emergency department who could have been seen more appropriately elsewhere.

“Please look at the NHS Choices website for information about where to go to get the right treatment. You can also phone 111 for advice if you need medical help fast but it's not a 999 emergency, or speak to your GP or local pharmacist.”

Falls are one of the main causes of older people attending accident and emergency and can sometimes lead to a lengthy hospital stay.Anyone can have a fall, but older people are more vulnerable and likely to fall, especially if they have a long-term health condition.

There are all sorts of things that can be done to reduce the risk of having a fall, including making simple changes at home, doing exercises to improve strength and balance, and only going out when you have to if the weather is bad.

People are asked to look out for elderly friends and relatives to make sure they seek early advice for any heavy colds or breathing problems and that their home is warm and safe.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said: “Older people are at particular risk of falls during winter. The streets can be extremely slippery underfoot due to fallen leaves, accumulations of rain, ice and snow, so we would encourage all older people to take extra care when out and about. When weather conditions are like this a pair of sturdy shoes with non-slip soles are worth their weight in gold as they may prevent a nasty tumble and resultant injury.

“Winter can also be a lonely time for older people if the weather means they are stuck at home, so we’d also urge people to keep an eye on their older family members, friends and neighbours. Bringing in some shopping for them, collecting prescriptions or just stopping by to check they’re ok, and being prepared to have a friendly chat, can be of immense help and support to older people at this time of year.”

If you're worried about a relative or elderly neighbour, contact your local council or call the Age UK helpline on 0800 678 1174 (8am-7pm every day).

If you're concerned that the person may be suffering from hypothermia, contact NHS 111.

Healthcare services in the North East and North Cumbria are also backing the national ‘Stay Well This Winter’ campaign which encourages people to look after themselves properly