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People have been urged to help the frail and elderly this winter and, in doing so, help take the pressure off frontline NHS services.
The call comes from Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s Director for Acute Care, who is leading the Urgent and Emergency Care Review.
Professor Willett is helping to drive home the messages of the NHS ‘Stay Well This Winter’ campaign as part of Self Care Week which runs to November 22.
“Millions of pensioners sadly will endure a lonely and cheerless Christmas this year and indeed spend many long winter’s days alone, explained Professor Willett. “Keeping an eye out for elderly relatives and neighbours and supporting them in the cold really has to be the duty of us all. And this is one of the most important messages from our NHS Stay Well This Winter campaign.”
According to recent research for the charity Age UK, as many as 60 per cent, or six million of the UK’s over-65s say the holiday period is an unhappy time of the year; they miss loved ones who have died and other friends and family are too busy or distant to visit.
Professor Willett added: “The fact that a third of elderly people never or only occasionally socialise with family or friends is not only a sad indictment of the society we live in, but the results of that social isolation present one of the biggest challenges to the NHS over the winter. The elderly compose the largest group admitted to hospital in the winter.”
Professor Willett explained that people can help by offering to check on elderly friends and neighbours, by making sure they keep warm and are adequately fed by taking them meals. They can also help with shopping and home tasks or give them a lift to shops, GP or pharmacy to pick up medications or get their flu jab. And, most importantly, watch for illness and make sure they seek help before it becomes more serious.
“This campaign is not about stopping those who need urgent medical attention from going to A&E, but about helping at-risk groups – such as the frail and elderly – stay well and ward off common winter illnesses before they become more serious and a hospital stay is needed.”
Charity Age UK is supporting the Stay Well This Winter campaign while also running its own ‘No-one should have no-one at Christmas’ campaign highlights that over a million older people say they haven’t spoken to a friend, neighbour or family member for over a month.
Mervyn Kohler, Age UK’s External Affairs Adviser, said: “Loneliness is a serious health hazard, and is closely linked to depression, self-neglect and mental illness. The cold winter months are a particularly difficult time for older people and Britain’s appalling record on ‘excess winter deaths’ is a national disgrace.
He called for a “full response to the challenge of cold and loneliness” among the elderly, adding that without it “this task will ultimately fall on front-line GPs and community health services, and on A&E departments and the ambulance service taking people there. Even counting the most obvious and straightforward of consequences, we can see that this presents the NHS with an annual bill of well over a billion pounds. The human cost is impossible to calculate.”