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The NHS has today issued a message reminding people to look in on neighbours and friends ahead of the New Year.
Professor Keith Willet, National Clinical Director for Acute Care said: “The period between Christmas and New Year can be a real worry if you are older and frailer than you were. Working in A&E for over thirty years, one of the upsetting things is to see people coming in who are cold.
“Every year thousands of people die as a result of cold weather. Most are over 75 and most of these deaths could be avoided. We also see a rise in the number of emergency admissions over this period brought on by cold weather and seasonal viruses.
“For those who are frail or elderly, even the common cold, can trigger a hospital stay. After dropping off older loved ones on Boxing Day, make sure the house is warm and try to look in on them again before the New Year.”
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 harmful to our health; studies indicate loneliness is as likely to cause early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
David McCullough, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service, said: “It is so important, especially in these cold winter months, to remember the older people in our lives and communities. Just nipping round for a chat to check everything is ok or offering a lift to the shops can, and does, make all the difference. Our 40,000 volunteers help over 100,000 older people every month, with seemingly small acts of kindness; it’s the small, practical things that we can all do to help that add up to a big change in people’s lives.”
Esther Rantzen the founder of The Silver Line said: “Last Christmas Day, when we were running a pilot for The Silver Line, I spoke to John, aged 86. He said “To be one hundred per cent honest, Esther, you are the first person I’ve spoken to all day.” It turned out that I was the only person he spoke to throughout Christmas. So now my ambition for The Silver Line is that in future every older person in Britain will know that on Christmas Day, and every day, they will have us to speak to. If the British public will support us, and enable us to pay for the calls, from now on, the Silver Line will be there to reassure these courageous, uncomplaining older people that we do care about them, and they are valued members of the human race. They deserve it. “
The Silver Line was launched nationally in November and is available 24 hours a day, every day and night of the year. The number is 0800 4 70 80 90 – it is free and confidential and offers information, friendship and protection from abuse and neglect. Over the Christmas and New Year period the helpline will be available as usual, and some 500 older people have specifically requested a telephone call on Christmas Day. These calls will be made by volunteer Silver Line Friends who receive training by the charity and make regular, weekly befriending calls to the older people who have said they would like them.
The NHS Winter Friends campaign, supported by the Royal Voluntary Service and The Silver Line, seeks to help by appealing to an old-fashioned sense of neighbourliness. If you want to get involved but don’t know where to start, visit the NHS Choices website or register with the Royal Voluntary Service who can help.