A national campaign to help people prepare for winter weather has been launched today by NHS England and Public Health England. The message is to Stay Well This Winter and to encourage people most at risk from cold weather, including those with long-term health conditions and the over 65s, to prepare for the lower temperatures.
Around 25,000 more people die over the course of each winter compared to other times of the year and there are a range of conditions worsened by the cold weather – 80 per cent of these deaths are accounted for by people with circulatory diseases (such as heart disease, lung illnesses and stroke), dementia and respiratory diseases (such as asthma).
Exposure to cold indoor or outdoor temperatures increases blood pressure, thereby increasing the risk of heart failure, kidney disease, stroke or dementia. Cold temperatures can also make blood more likely to clot, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke. In addition, cold can also affect the respiratory system, which reduces the lung’s ability to fight off infection explaining why lower temperatures are linked with bronchitis and pneumonia.
Colder weather is not only associated with an increase in deaths but also has a significant impact on the number of people becoming ill, increasing the winter pressures felt by the health care services. Research shows that for every one degree centigrade drop below five degrees in outdoor average temperatures, there is more than a 10 per cent increase in older people consulting their GP for breathing problems, a 0.8 per cent increase in emergency hospital admissions and a 3.4 per increase in deaths.
The campaign messages, which includes TV, radio and social media, urge people to be ready for the colder season and to seek immediate advice and help from a pharmacist as soon as they feel unwell, before their condition gets more serious.
Professor Keith Willett, Medical Director for Acute Care at NHS England said: “The NHS is here to help but there are important things we can all do to take care of ourselves during the winter months. It is vital that the most vulnerable people take preventative steps to keep healthy and stay well. We have a high number of A&E attendances over this time that are due to issues which could have been avoided had people sought advice at the first sign of illness.
“We are urging people to take practical steps such as to wrap up warm before the temperature dial hits freezing. Research shows even at above freezing temperatures, for every one degree centigrade drop below five degrees, there is a resulting increase in older people consulting their GP for breathing problems, as well as an increase in deaths.”
Experts are also advising people to heat their homes to at least 18°C (65°F) and to look out for those at increased risk of illness over the winter months. Cold and damp homes can contribute to poor mental health and social isolation, which are also key factors in increased winter deaths and disease. One study showed that residents of the 25 per cent coldest homes have around a 20 per cent greater risk of dying during the winter months than those in the warmest homes.
Professor Paul Cosford, Director for Health Protection and Medical Director at Public Health England said: “Throughout the cold weather, looking out for yourself and others is essential to keeping healthy. With winter on the way, now is a good time to make sure you, and those you know who may be particularly at risk from the cold, are as prepared as possible. If you qualify for the free flu jab, get it now. Also remember that eating a healthy, balanced diet and that staying physically active can keep you healthy.
“There are a variety of ways you can apply for help to keep your house warm, such as Winter Fuel Payments, Warm Home Discounts and Cold Weather Payments. If you meet the criteria, register for priority service with your energy and water suppliers.
“Try to maintain indoor temperatures to at least 18°C (65°F), particularly if you find it hard to get around, have a long-term illness or are 65 or over. You may prefer your living room to be slightly warmer. Make sure your gas, solid fuel and oil burning appliances are serviced by a registered engineer so that they are working effectively and safely before the winter sets in. If we all look out for each other this winter we can really make a difference.”
Meteorologist and weather presenter Lucy Verasamy is also supporting the campaign. Lucy said: “Cold weather narrows the blood vessels. This is why we see an increase in things like heart attacks over winter months. There are also other practical dangers when the weather gets cold such as icy pavements, which lead to an increase in slips and falls, particularly amongst the elderly. I’m supporting the Stay Well This Winter campaign because I really believe in raising awareness of the small steps we can take to look after ourselves and others when the mercury drops.”