NHS urges people to continue to use services sensibly following industrial action

The NHS in South West is urging people to continue to use services sensibly after an amber cold weather alert is issued for the region straight off the back of six continuous days of junior doctors’ strikes.

Pressure on many NHS services across the region remained high throughout the junior doctor industrial action over the past week and, although urgent and emergency services were delivered safely, there is concern that pressure will increase as the NHS returns to business as usual and people with non-urgent care needs seek help.

The end of industrial action coincides with a cold weather alert issued by the Met Office and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) for much of England, including the South West, running from today until Friday, 12 January.

Cold weather can particularly impact older people with pre-existing medical conditions, as well as increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and chest infections.

Dr Michael Marsh, NHS England South West Medical Director, said: “Following previous periods of industrial action we have tended to see a spike in people coming forward needing medical care.

“With cold weather predicted for much of this week we expect that could increase the number of people needing healthcare as cold weather can exacerbate pre-existing conditions – particularly respiratory illnesses – as well as lead to an increase in serious conditions such as heart attacks and strokes.

“There is also the risk of people falling and injuring themselves if conditions become icy.

“The ask is for people to look after themselves and others in the cold weather so please check on elderly relatives and neighbours, and continue to use the NHS if you need us, by accessing the right services for your medical condition.”

There are a number of ways people can continue to support the NHS:

  • Use 999 in life-threatening emergencies. If you are unsure of the service you need use 111 online or by phone.
  • If your loved one is in hospital and well enough to leave, help support them to get home at the earliest opportunity.
  • Make sure you have enough regular medication and don’t leave repeat prescription requests until you have run out. Your own GP can help arrange an urgent medication supply if you do run out.
  • Make use of pharmacies. Pharmacists are open over weekends and can give you expert, confidential advice and over-the-counter remedies for minor illnesses and ailments. You don’t need to make an appointment to see a pharmacist.
  • Call your own GP – even if you’re on holiday – when surgeries are open. They offer appointment via telephone and video, so you don’t need to be there I person.
  • Parents can download the free NHS HandiApp for advice about common childhood conditions.

Top tips to stay warm and safe during the cold weather:

  • Check on family, friends and neighbours who may be at risk of becoming unwell.
  • Keep homes heated – to at least 18℃ where possible – sticking to the rooms you use most if necessary.
  • Keep the heat in by keeping windows and curtains closed and taking measures to reduce drafts.
  • Wrap up warm by wear multiple layers of thinner clothing rather than one thick layer.
  • If you’re eligible, get vaccinated against flu and covid.

Make sure you have enough food and medicine