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A major drive to help people stay well this winter is being launched today (Thursday) by Public Health England and NHS England.
It kicks off with a national flu vaccination programme for children, which this year seeks to help over three million 2-6 year olds, as the programme is extended to children in school years 1 and 2.
For the first time, all our youngest primary school children will be eligible to receive the free nasal spray vaccine, making this the largest school-based vaccination programme in England involving children in 17,000 schools.
As in previous years, the adult flu vaccine will also be offered for free to those in groups at particular risk of infection and complications from flu. The groups being offered the adult flu vaccine are:
- Pregnant women
- Those aged 65 or over
- Those aged under 65 with long-term conditions
As well as protecting against flu, the NHS Stay Well This Winter campaign will urge people over 65 or those with long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease or respiratory illness, to prepare for winter with advice on how to ward off common illnesses.
The NHS ‘Stay Well This Winter’ campaign urges the public to:
- Make sure you get your flu jab if eligible.
- Keep yourself warm – heat your home to least 18 degrees C or (65F) if you can.
- If you start to feel unwell, even if it’s just a cough or a cold, then get help from your pharmacist quickly before it gets more serious.
- Make sure you get your prescription medicines before pharmacies close on Christmas Eve.
- Always take your prescribed medicines as directed.
- Look out for other people who may need a bit of extra help over winter.
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies said: “Let me be crystal clear – flu kills. For many people it is an unpleasant illness but for the most vulnerable in society – small children, the elderly, those with long-term health problems and for pregnant women – it is extremely dangerous and can be lethal.
“Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from catching flu and I would urge everyone who is offered the vaccine free on the NHS to get vaccinated.”
A pilot programme last year showed vaccinating children had dual benefit; as well as protecting them from flu, it also protects others, such as parents, grandparents and siblings, as children are ‘super spreaders’ and are much more likely to infect others.
Parents are encouraged to complete consent forms in order to allow immunisation teams to administer the nasal spray flu vaccine to their children. For those children in areas where the vaccination is not offered through schools, they will be offered the vaccination at their local GP or pharmacy.
Professor Paul Cosford, Director for Health Protection and Medical Director at Public Health England (PHE), said: “If you have children aged two, three or four, or in school years 1 and 2, make sure you take up their free flu vaccination this season.
“GPs are offering the vaccine to children aged two to four years and, in the majority of areas in England, it will be offered to children in school years 1 and 2. The nasal spray vaccination is quick, effective and painless, and remains the best way to help you and your family stay well this winter.”
All frontline NHS staff will once again be offered a free flu jab this season in order to protect themselves and patients from infection. Last year only 54 per cent of staff were vaccinated. NHS leaders are today encouraging them to take up this offer as part of their duty to protect patients and keep them safe.
Professor Dame Sally Davies added: “NHS staff have a duty of care to do everything they can to protect patients – that includes getting vaccinated against the flu so they don’t pass it on. I urge every healthcare worker to make sure they get the jab.”
Commenting on the ‘Stay Well This Winter’ campaign, Keith Willett, National Director for Acute Care for NHS England said: “We are making sure we give people the information they need to help them to look after themselves and also to know where to go for urgent advice – whether it’s pharmacies, NHS Choices, NHS111 or A&E.
“It’s also critical we do what we can to help others stay well. The elderly compose the largest group admitted to hospital in the winter. Half live alone and one third never or only occasionally socialise with family or friends. They, as a result are slow to seek help, and once ill often get too unwell. This is a golden opportunity for us to look out for our neighbours and ensure they get any help they need.”
The NHS has strengthened planning for winter this year with work starting earlier than ever before. Funding was provided to local health systems via Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in April, and for the first time included in their baseline allocation, to ensure local urgent and emergency care and planned services are sustainable year round.
To improve services for the public over the longer term, the NHS is also forging on with implementing the urgent care review, redesigning the urgent care system to reduce the rise in emergency admissions that have put pressures on hospitals and ensuring the public can get the right care, in the right place, every day of the week.
Eight areas across the country are trailblazing new approaches to improve the coordination of urgent and emergency care services and work is underway to bring NHS 111 and General Practice Out of Hours services closer together to provide patients with a “new front door” to urgent health care services.
The new service will offer patients improved access to a new 24/7 urgent clinical assessment, advice and treatment service – bringing together NHS 111, GP out of hours and clinical advice.
Public Health England is also publishing its Cold Weather Plan today which further aims to help people stay well this winter.
Professor Cosford at Public Health England said: “In colder weather, keeping yourself warm is essential to staying healthy, especially for the very young, older people or those with a chronic illness. There are a range of health problems associated with cold housing and winter weather, but in particular, a cold indoor or outdoor environment can make heart and respiratory problems worse, and can be fatal. This is why our Cold Weather Plan, published today, sets out a series of actions that health and social care organisations, voluntary groups, and individuals can take and plan for cold temperatures to help reduce cold-related illnesses and deaths.”
Stay Well This Winter is run in partnership with Public Health England, the Trust Development Authority, Monitor and the Department of Health. It runs across a range of media including TV, radio, digital, press and poster sites. For more information please visit the website at www.nhs.uk/staywell.