How we can all play a part to help avoid another NHS winter health crisis

Dr Kailash Chand OBE (pictured) Chair Healthwatch Tameside and former deputy chair of the BMA Council urges everyone

to play their part in helping to avoid another ‘winter crisis’ in the NHS as the colder weather looms large…

 

With the winter approaching, health professionals delivering care in Tameside and Glossop will understandably be nervous about what lays in store in the coming months.

Last year, the winter crisis was a nightmare for both primary and secondary care settings.

The announcement by the Health Secretary at the annual Conservative party conference of an extra £240m for social care this winter will go some way towards easing pressure on front line services. Of course this is just another short-term fix.

As experienced in the chaos of last winter, adequate staffing and capacity in social care is a vital part of relieving pressures in the NHS.

Patients can be discharged from hospital in a timely manner making more beds available for the increasing numbers of people accessing care during this busier period.

Given however the significant impact of decade’s worth of cuts to social care in Tameside and Glossop and across the country – down 10 percent in real terms in England since 2010 –over £200 million cuts to our borough, this by no means offers the comprehensive remedy that is needed.

If we are to stop the practice of last-minute firefighting and put an end to what is now the normal crisis-mode of winter, the government must provide the necessary long-term investment that is needed.

Only then will we begin to see the type of change that is necessary to relieve year-round pressures on services and enable sustained improvements to patient care.

Flu jab

One thing you can do to reduce the winter pressure on the A&E and GP surgeries is to get a FLU vaccination as soon as possible.

The Tameside and Glossop ICO has traditionally targeted people at higher risk of severe disease – all over 65s, those under 65 with specified chronic illnesses, pregnant women, and healthcare workers.

Despite this, the burden of disease remains substantial. Why? Because influenza vaccine effectiveness may be affected by an underlying host of factors such as age, risk status, timing of vaccination, and vaccination history.

Effectiveness is reduced in some groups that have a high burden, including elderly people, who are particularly affected by a certain strain of the flu virus.

Further, at this time of year it is even more important that you eat well (real food, not processed junk food), keep hydrated by drinking at least 1.5 litres of water every day, make sure you take regular light exercise and try to get at least seven hours sleep a night.

Healthy food is a vital source of energy, which helps to keep your body warm. So, try to make sure you have hot meals and drinks regularly throughout the day.

Keeping warm is not just an old wives tale and it’s important to heat your home well.

The ideal temperature is between 18-21C or 64-70F. If you feel cold at night, use a hot water bottle or electric blanket  – but never use both together.

During the short winter days try and stay active and get outside in daylight if possible.

In bad weather, take sensible precautions to avoid falls and fractures. In particularly cold weather it is important to consider hypothermia.

Remember that alcohol can contribute to lowering your core body temperature so use common sense in terms of what you wear and how much you drink on nights out.

Wear several thin layers of clothing rather than one thick layer and when outdoors wear a warm hat, gloves and scarf to help keep out the cold.

Only visit the hospital’s A&E department or dial 999 in a genuine emergency such as loss of consciousness, heavy blood loss, suspected broken bones, persistent chest pain for 15 minutes or more, difficulty breathing or overdose.

People who inappropriately use the ambulance services and accident and emergency departments for non-emergencies are diverting resources away from those who may be in desperate need of care and urgent attention.

Warning

Last winter gave us the clearest possible warning that patient safety is now at risk.

We have very short time to respond to those warnings. With the historical funding problems worsening in the last decade, a crisis in retention and recruitment, increasing demand, and collapse of social care in many places, I cannot be optimistic that the looming crisis can be averted by £240 million announced by the health secretary.

It seems to me that we need an injection of lot more extra resources, not just a vaccine against the flu virus.

We need to play our role to stay healthy and help reduce the pressure on the NHS and social services.

Today’s health issues, such as stress, anxiety, obesity, diabetes, chronic fatigue and bodily pain all have their roots in poor lifestyle habits.