Take care of yourself this winter

The Chief Nursing Officer for England discusses the importance of Self Care Week that kicks off today.

It’s that time of the year when the clocks have gone back, the days feel shorter and the weather gets colder.

We all need to wrap up warm and particularly look out for those who are frail and vulnerable this winter.

Self care week starts today and aims to raise awareness about establishing support for self care across communities, families and generations.

Self care is not self-management; it is much broader and includes everything from daily choices such as dressing in warm clothes and eating healthily, to self-treating minor ailments and injuries, self-management of long term conditions and preventing serious conditions by looking after your general physical health and mental wellbeing.

We all know that more needs to be done to support people to better look after their own health. Empowering individuals to self care has many benefits for their short term and long term health and this is important, particularly as people are living longer.

This year’s Self Care Week theme is focused on raising awareness of the importance of understanding self care for life.

Helping people to look after their own health, and their family’s health also helps to manage demand on health services, which is important at this time of the year to help the NHS operate as effectively as possible to support those with more demanding health care problems that they can’t manage themselves.

As Chief Nursing Officer for England, I regularly see the challenges and pressures that staff face across the NHS. Nurses, GPs, Consultants and many other NHS professionals work hard throughout the year and I know it’s particularly hard over winter. That’s why it’s important to raise awareness about the importance of self care and provide information and advice so people can manage their own health needs where possible.

Self Care Week and this year’s Stay Well This Winter campaign aim to raise awareness of the importance of self care and how to stay warm over the winter months. Winter can be seriously bad for our health but there a number of things that individuals can do to keep themselves warm, safe and well.

Cold weather can be very harmful, especially for people aged 65 or older. It weakens the immune system, increases blood pressure, thickens the blood and lowers body temperature. This increases the risks of high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and chest infections.

A couple of weeks ago, I had my annual flu vaccination to help reduce the chances of flu affecting the control of my Type 1 diabetes.  If you’re eligible, like me, make sure you get your flu vaccination now and encourage others. For children aged two to four, the vaccination is also free but in the form of a nasal spray.

If you have a long-term health condition like COPD, bronchitis, emphysema, diabetes, heart or kidney disease or have suffered a stroke, cold weather can make health problems like these far worse.

If you start to feel unwell, at the first signs of symptoms of winter respiratory illness, even if it’s just a cough or cold, get advice from your pharmacist, before it gets more serious. Self care and managing health conditions effectively is a good thing, but you must seek medical advice if you are unsure.

Finally, it’s important to heat your home to at least 18°C (65°F), if you can although you might prefer your living room to be slightly warmer. Remember to keep your window closed on winter nights as breathing in cold air can be bad for your health as it increases the risk of chest infections. It’s worth taking a look at Public Health England’s website for advice and information on how to keep your home warm.

So, my message to you all is simple: if you come across someone who may need some help or support with their health over the winter months, let someone like a GP or a medical centre know and importantly, look after yourself and look out for each other.

Jane Cummings

Professor Jane Cummings is the Chief Nursing Officer for England and Executive Director at NHS England.

Jane specialised in emergency care and has held a wide variety of roles across the NHS including Director of Commissioning, Director of Nursing and Deputy Chief Executive.

In February 2004, she became the national lead for emergency care agreeing and implementing the 98% operational standard. She has also worked as the nursing advisor for emergency care. In January 2005, she was appointed as the National Implementation Director for ‘Choice’ and ‘Choose and Book’.

Jane moved to NHS North West in November 2007 where she held executive responsibility for the professional leadership of nursing, quality, performance as well as QIPP, commissioning and for a time Deputy Chief Executive Officer. In October 2011, she was appointed to the role of Chief Nurse for the North of England SHA Cluster.

She was appointed as Chief Nursing Officer for England in March 2012 and started full time in June 2012. Jane is the professional lead for all nurses and midwives in England (with the exception of public health) and published the ‘6Cs’ and ‘Compassion in Practice’ in December 2012, followed by publishing the ‘Leading Change, Adding Value’ framework in May 2016.

Jane has executive oversight of maternity, patient experience, learning disability and, in January 2016, became executive lead for Patient and Public Participation.

She was awarded Doctorates by Edge Hill University and by Bucks New University, and she is a visiting professor at Kingston University and St George’s University, London.

She is also Director and trustee for Macmillan Cancer Support and a clinical Ambassador for the Over the Wall Children’s Charity where she volunteers as a nurse providing care for children affected by serious illnesses.

Follow Jane on Twitter: @JaneMCummings.

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