13/12/2013 - Permalink

Spread a little comfort and joy this festive season

Related topics: Health

News from our health-sector partners Shropshire and Staffordshire Area Team 

As demand on NHS resources increases – attendances to hospital A&E departments have increased by more than 2 million over the past decade – the NHS has called for people to have a sense of good old-fashioned neighbourliness to ease the chill of loneliness by checking an elderly friend is eating well, and is safe and warm. 

The aim is for 100,000 people to sign up to becoming a ‘Winter Friend’ and promise that they’ll take time out this winter to look in on an elderly friend or neighbour to make sure they are warm and coping well.

 Major Adrian Stringer, The Salvation Army’s West Midlands Divisional Director for Community Services, said:

“Winter Friends is a really good idea, as it is based on community values that work.  It is things like checking someone has opened their curtains and that there’s not post stacking up behind their front door.  It’s about being a good neighbour, which shouldn’t take up too much of your time, but it has a huge impact on those it helps.” 

Each winter, thousands of people in England die as a result of cold weather.  Many are over 75, and most of these deaths could be avoided.  Hundreds of thousands of others spend much of the winter alone. 

In England, 51% of all people over 75 live alone, and a staggering five million older people say that the television is their only form of company.  Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are also harmful to our health, and that a lack of social interaction is as likely to cause death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

The Winter Friends pledge is one way of encouraging all of us to be a good neighbour or friend and, in return, those who sign up will receive free cold weather alerts and email tips throughout the winter to help them do their bit. 

Dr Ken Deacon, Medical Director for NHS England in Shropshire and Staffordshire, said:

My message to the public is simple; look after yourself and those near to you this winter.  If you know someone who is frail or elderly, or has an existing health problem, or is feeling unwell, encourage them to seek early advice, from their local pharmacy or GP, before one problem leads to another and they require treatment in hospital.  Being in hospital over Christmas really isn’t much fun at all. 

NHS England’s Winter Friends campaign is a great opportunity for you to meet your neighbours and give something back to your local community.  I’d urge everyone to take part. 

People who wish to sign the pledge and join the Winter Friends campaign should go to www.nhs.uk/WinterFriends

Signing the pledge takes only a moment, but if as many people as possible people sign up, just think about how many lives will be enriched and many deaths avoided.  

There is a wide range of information and advice available at Shropshire Council’s Get ready for winter webpages to help people prepare themselves for cold weather and help those struggling to afford heating bills.  Visit http://shropshire.gov.uk/get-ready-for-winter/

Further information

Fives way you can help after signing the winter pledge: 

  • Set some time aside to drop in on an older neighbour or friend once a week – more often if the weather turns very cold
  • Check their home is warm enough. The main living area should be around 21°C (70°F) and bedrooms should be 18°C (65°F).  If they are worried about the costs of heating, check they are receiving their heating bill benefits, such Winter Fuel or Cold Weather payments (https://www.gov.uk/winter-fuel-payment and https://www.gov.uk/cold-weather-payment).  If there are draughts you may be able to help plug them
  • Food is a vital source of energy that helps keep us warm.  Make sure the person you are looking in on is eating well and has some non-perishable foods in the cupboard  that they can heat up in case they can’t leave the house for a few days.  Tinned meals and soups are ideal
  • Many older people take medicines and everyone over 65 should have a free flu jab.  Ask if there is anything you can do to help – picking up a prescription or giving them a lift to the GP surgery, for instance.  And if you are unwell take real care not to pass it on
  • It’s also important for people to keep active and get out if they can.  Make sure the person you are helping has warm shoes with a good grip, and a good coat, hat and gloves.  Offer to walk with them if they are not confident alone.  If it snows, offer to clear the path to their door for them.

Winer health facts

There were an estimated 31,000 excess winter deaths in England and Wales in 2012/13.  Excess winter deaths refers to increased mortality in winter compared to the summer months (ONS:http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/subnational-health2/excess-winter-mortality-in-england-and-wales/2012-13–provisional–and-2011-12–final-/index.html).