NHS to raise army of Good Samaritans for winter

The NHS has today issued a call for 100,000 people to sign a pledge saying they will look in on an elderly friend or neighbour this winter.

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

The campaign, led by NHS Choices and supported by national media seeks to help by appealing to an old-fashioned sense of neighbourliness.  Specifically, it is asking for 100,000 people to sign an electronic pledge that states: “I will take time out this winter to look in on an elderly friend or neighbour to make sure they are warm and coping well.”

Those who sign the Winter Friends pledge will receive free cold weather alerts and email tips throughout the winter to help them do their bit.

One of the first to sign the pledge is the actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley. She said yesterday that becoming a Winter Friend would not just help the elderly but bring great rewards to those that took part.

Miss Lumley said: “A little help really does go a long way. You will also find, I’m sure, that giving a bit of your time in this way is hugely rewarding. Older people can be physically frail but they have a lifetime’s wisdom and experience to share.”

“That’s why I’m proud to lend my support to the NHS Winter Friends Pledge. Please join me and together we can make sure this winter is a wonderful winter for everyone.”

Actor Stephen Fry who is also supporting the campaign said: “Every year, thousands of people in England die as a result of cold weather, with many more ending up in hospital. Isolated, vulnerable and elderly people are the most at risk. It’s a tragedy if any of these deaths could be avoided, so that’s why I’ll be tweeting my support for the NHS Choices Winter Friends pledge.”

“By signing the pledge you’ll be sent cold weather alerts and other information to help relatives and vulnerable neighbours as the temperatures drop. A simple undertaking to look in on someone vulnerable during the coldest months could make an enormous difference to their lives this winter.”

Other prominent figures supporting the campaign include the Olympic gold medallist Sally Gunnell, the actors Sir Tony Robinson and Olivia Colman, the television presenters Richard Madeley and Jenni Falconer, and the rapper Plan B.

People who wish to sign the pledge and join the NHS Winter Friends campaign should go to Signing the pledge takes only a moment but research suggests that if 100,000 people sign many lives will be enriched and many deaths avoided.

In England, 51 per cent of all people over 75 live alone and five million older people say the television is their main form of company. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are also harmful to our physical health.  Studies indicate that lack of social connections is as likely to cause early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The initiative is part of wider NHS campaign to encourage people to take care of their health during winter.

NHS England recently published analysis showing that the number of unnecessary emergency admissions to hospital rises in winter. It showed that older people are most likely to be affected and that the one of the biggest issues is respiratory conditions.

Professor Mike Morgan, National Clinical Director for Respiratory Health, said: “My message to the public is simple: look after yourself this winter. If you know someone who is frail or elderly or has an existing health problem and they are feeling unwell, encourage them to seek early advice, go to their local pharmacy or GP before one problem leads to another and they end up in hospital.”

Five ways you can help after signing the Winter Friends pledge

  1. Set some time aside to drop in on an older neighbour or friend once a week – more often if the weather turns very cold.
  2. 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 as Winter Fuel Payment and Cold Weather Payment. If there are draughts you may be able to help plug them.
  3. 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.
  4. 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’s. And if you are unwell, take real care not to pass it on.
  5. It’s also important for people to keep active and get out if they can. Make sure the person you are helping has warm and grippy shoes and a good coat, hat and gloves. Offer to walk with them if they are not confident alone. If it snows clear the path to their door for them.