National NHS campaign launches in London urging people to stay well this winter
- Annually there are approximately 25,000 excess winter deaths
- Campaign urges practical steps to keep well especially people vulnerable to health conditions made worse by cold
A national campaign to help people in London prepare for winter weather has been launched by NHS England and Public Health England. The message is to Stay Well This Winter and to encourage people most at risk from cold weather, including those with long-term health conditions and the over 65s, to prepare for the lower temperatures.
Around 25,000 more people die over the course of each winter compared to other times of the year and there are a range of conditions worsened by the cold weather - 80 per cent of these deaths are accounted for by people with circulatory diseases (such as heart disease, lung illnesses and stroke), dementia and respiratory diseases (such as asthma).
Exposure to cold indoor or outdoor temperatures increases blood pressure, thereby increasing the risk of heart failure, kidney disease, stroke or dementia. Cold temperatures can also make blood more likely to clot, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke. In addition, cold can also affect the respiratory system, which reduces the lung's ability to fight off infection explaining why lower temperatures are linked with bronchitis and pneumonia.
Colder weather is not only associated with an increase in deaths but also has a significant impact on the number of people becoming ill, increasing the winter pressures felt by the health care services. Research shows that for every one degree centigrade drop below five degrees in outdoor average temperatures, there is more than a 10 per cent increase in older people consulting their GP for breathing problems, a 0.8 per cent increase in emergency hospital admissions and a 3.4 per increase in deaths.
The campaign messages, which includes TV, radio and social media, urge people to be ready for the colder season and to seek immediate advice and help from a pharmacist as soon as they feel unwell, before their condition gets more serious.
Dr Mark Spencer, Interim Medical Director at NHS England (London) and London GP said:
"Winter is a particularly busy period for the NHS and we're working hard so that London's NHS is prepared for increased pressures.
"At every opportunity throughout winter, we will be encouraging Londoners to play their part by taking practical steps to stay well. This includes getting immunised against flu - it's easy to forget that for some people, flu can lead to potentially more serious problems and so we strongly urge everyone in the 'at risk' group to receive their vaccine, especially children who are more likely to get the flu and pass it on to friends and elderly relatives.
"If you start to feel unwell and you need advice, call 111 or speak to your local pharmacist."
Experts are also advising people to heat their homes to at least 18°C (65°F) and to look out for those at increased risk of illness over the winter months. Cold and damp homes can contribute to poor mental health and social isolation, which are also key factors in increased winter deaths and disease. One study showed that residents of the 25 per cent coldest homes have around a 20 per cent greater risk of dying during the winter months than those in the warmest homes.
Professor Paul Cosford, Director for Health Protection and Medical Director at Public Health England said:
"Throughout the cold weather, looking out for yourself and others is essential to keeping healthy. With winter on the way, now is a good time to make sure you, and those you know who may be particularly at risk from the cold, are as prepared as possible. If you qualify for the free flu jab, get it now. Also remember that eating a healthy, balanced diet and that staying physically active can keep you healthy.
"There are a variety of ways you can apply for help to keep your house warm, such as Winter Fuel Payments, Warm Home Discounts and Cold Weather Payments. If you meet the criteria, register for priority service with your energy and water suppliers.
"Try to maintain indoor temperatures to at least 18°C (65°F), particularly if you find it hard to get around, have a long-term illness or are 65 or over. You may prefer your living room to be slightly warmer. Make sure your gas, solid fuel and oil burning appliances are serviced by a registered engineer so that they are working effectively and safely before the winter sets in. If we all look out for each other this winter we can really make a difference."