Help your doctor this winter by helping yourself

NHS England’s National Clinical lead for Primary Care explains how we can all help ourselves to Stay Well This Winter:

The Indian summer and mild November days have given way to wild and windy storms.

With the rain and biting cold gales comes a wish to curl up with the winter viruses and counting off the shopping days to Christmas.

And with the festivities comes the challenge to any GP, avoiding all those chocolates left as presents and of course picking the right centres!

Through the winter months I will see many patients who could have done so much more to keep healthy and hence avoid having to take time off, require treatment from me or, worse, admission to hospital.

Minded by a lesson taught to me as a junior doctor, “the health of our patients is a partnership between us and not about what we do to them”, we work closely with patient groups, carers, the nursing team and local pharmacists at our surgery. We all know as a team we will achieve much more than as individuals.

The flu campaign is central to that partnership. For patients aged 65 and over and those with a long term conditions such as asthma, diabetes and COPD, having your flu jab promptly can prove to be a life saver. While we would contact all of our at risk patients, what is most pleasing is that patients know that they need to take the initiative and book their appointments early in the season.

The flu clinic is also an opportunity for patients to update some of their general health information, such as blood pressure, weight and height and lifestyle advice such as diet and exercise. Avoiding the flu means patients are able to deal with some of the coughs and colds of winter much better.

Aside from the avoidance of flu, having winter remedies such as paracetamol, Ibuprofen and simple cough syrups in stock for “that cold” is always a good idea. Speaking to the pharmacists before you get a cold on what they have and having them at hand is a good idea and using them as a first point of contact when you get a cold is often the best thing to do.

As GP’s we cannot treat viruses and aside from making those appointments available for more serious patients, avoiding the waiting room is often a clever way of missing the next “local bug”.

Many of us are lucky enough to be fit and healthy through the whole season; for us this is an opportunity to call on the not so well family, friends and neighbours. Support for such people is essential in getting through those ups and downs. This can be by helping them stock up and make sure they have all their regular medicines, warm clothing, working heating systems or perhaps even a bowl of hot soup – not to mention keeping well hydrated.

Whilst as it gets cold we want to hibernate, opening the window regularly to let in fresh air, and going out for a walk, even in the garden are essential in keeping our lungs healthy. Wearing the right clothing and footwear for such walks is important as is avoiding slippery paths, a common cause of accidental falls. Stocking up with salt for those icy mornings always makes one feel smug as everyone else mimics Mr Bean on their pathway.

All said we will always have questions to ask; there is an excellent website run by the NHS – – which covers most of the common conditions we encounter. The NHS 111 service is a 24 hour advice line available for us to call for non-emergency conditions.

Finally, as the sales approach we often get all the information on the opening times of all of our favourite stores and shopping centres. At the same time, we should note down the opening times of our local surgeries, pharmacies and larger supermarkets – the latter being an excellent resource for those simple home remedies.

Dr Mo Dewji

Dr Mo Dewji is a partner and trainer in a ten-doctor urban practice in Milton Keynes.

He was the PCG and then PEC chair of MKPCT prior to his appointment as the Head of the National PMS Development Team.

He was then appointed as the Clinical Director for Strategy and System Reform at South Central SHA.

He is now the National Clinical Lead (Primary Care) within the Medical Directorate of the NHS England, where he has been advising on the support of the Friends and Family Test in General Practice.

He has also acted as the clinical lead in the benchmarking of care across health systems and the active use of data to develop and deliver high quality care.

Between his work at the SHA and his recent move to the NHS England he headed the Primary Care QIPP Workstream at the Department of Health.

He has been actively involved in the development of new commissioning models supporting CCG’s and practices, and acted as an advisor to the development of the Diabetes NSF and was one of the founder members of the National Resource Framework Group.

His clinical interests lie in Paediatrics and GP Training.