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Take care of yourself and look out for others this winter

A couple walking in the snow

The Director of Nursing, NHS England and Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England discusses the importance of Self Care Week that starts today:

As always at the start of winter, we all need to wrap up warm and look out for those who are frail and particularly vulnerable.

With this in mind, I’d like to introduce the importance of creating resilient individuals.

Self Care Week starts today and aims to raise awareness about establishing support for self care across communities, families and generations. This year’s theme builds on last years and is focused on embracing self care for life.

I’d like to start by making a distinction between self care and self-management. Self care 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 general physical health and mental wellbeing.

People have a key role in protecting their own health, choosing appropriate treatments and managing long-term conditions. Self-management is a term used to include all the actions taken by people to recognise, treat and manage their own health. They may do this independently or in partnership with the healthcare system.

However, many people with lived experience have told us that simply saying ‘self care’ creates a real sense of isolation – that they are being left on their own to look after themselves. This is why we’re supporting people to be much more confident in managing their health and wellbeing.

As part of our drive to support self care, NHS England is leading work to help people build knowledge, skills and confidence in managing their own health and wellbeing through the Patient Activation programme. This programme is providing practitioners with a way of evaluating the support that people need and measuring their progress.

By understanding where people stand in their knowledge, skills and confidence, we can meet them ‘where they are’ and together reach a decision about the support that would help them most.  This can include a range of options, but key approaches are outlined in the Realising the Value resources, including self-management education, peer support, health coaching and community based activities

There’s exciting in-depth work going on in 15 of our vanguard areas, where the elements of self care are being worked out in practice.

When I visit front line services, 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 challenging 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 affect people in a number of different ways, 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.

Recently, I had my annual flu vaccination to help reduce the chances of myself and my family from becoming ill. All NHS professionals and health care staff are eligible this year for a free flu vaccination, so if you haven’t had yours yet, please do and encourage others to do the same.

If you or someone you know has a long-term health condition like 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). 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 please do take time to read more about Self Care Week and do all you can to protect yourself and others.

Hilary Garratt

Hilary Garratt BSc, MSc, RGN, RHV, PGCE is the Director of Nursing in NHS England and Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England, supporting Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England.

Hilary leads a nursing and midwifery team in NHS England that focuses on a number of national statutory functions and professional development priority areas.

She is a registered Nurse and Health Visitor with over 30 years’ experience of working in the NHS. Hilary has held a number of director posts and a deputy chief executive post in both Commissioning and Provision and has been working at National Director level for the last four years.

She also volunteers for BBC Children in Need and is a committee member that undertakes grant making for the North of England. A mother to three, she is also a trustee of a charity, “Giving to Gambia” and enjoys working in the Gambia for a short time each year as a volunteer to support initiatives that improve health and wellbeing.

Follow Hilary on Twitter: @HilaryGarratt.

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