Every winter in Norfolk more people fall ill or injure themselves than during any other time of the year, resulting in around 620 additional people dying compared to the summer – and many of these deaths are preventable.
With the clocks going back this weekend and winter fast approaching, Norfolk County Council’s Public Health department and its partners are encouraging people to look out for others who may struggle to cope during colder weather with their Stay Well This Winter campaign.
Older people, very young children, pregnant women, those with long-term health conditions and people who live in poor quality housing or are homeless are particularly vulnerable during the winter. While cold weather itself doesn’t often directly make people ill, it can contribute to conditions that lead to illnesses including stroke and heart attack. Flu viruses are also more stable in cold air, making it easier for them to spread and leading to more cases of flu during the winter, which can be life-threatening to some vulnerable people.
Stay Well This Winter aims to make people aware of what they can do to keep themselves and their family, friends and neighbours in good health during the colder months. The campaign is encouraging everyone in Norfolk to do five things that will help prevent vulnerable people being put at risk this winter:
- If you or someone you know is eligible to get a free flu jab on the NHS, make sure they get it. All adults aged 65 and over are eligible to have the free flu jab, as are pregnant women and children aged six months to two years at risk of flu. People can get the free flu jab at many pharmacies, as well as at flu jab clinics at their GP surgery. Find out if you or someone you know is eligible for the free flu jab at www.nhs.uk/flujab.
- Ensure your home or a vulnerable person’s home is well-heated and insulated – living in cold, damp or mouldy rooms can affect your health. Heat your home, or at the very least the rooms you use regularly, to between 18 and 21°C. If keeping your home warm is a struggle, there is financial help available. For help with paying heating bills, people can apply to the Surviving Winter fund from early November, for more details visit www.norfolkfoundation.com. To find out if you can get help to make your home more energy efficient, visit: https://www.gov.uk/energy-grants-calculator
- Make sure you or someone you know is keeping warm by dressing appropriately for the cold, wearing layers, moving around regularly if possible and eating hot meals and drinking hot drinks. If you know someone who struggles to prepare nutritious hot meals, meals on wheels may be a good solution. Visit www.norfolk.gov.uk/mealsonwheels for more information.
- In periods of cold, icy or snowy weather, it may be difficult for some vulnerable people to get out and about and carry out their usual routine safely. This could mean tasks like picking up prescriptions and buying food go undone, putting people at greater risk of becoming unwell. Check in on people you know who may struggle in wintry weather and consider offering them what support you can to help them cope. If you think someone’s safety is at risk, contact Norfolk County Council on 0344 800 8020. In an emergency always ring 999.
- Some people, particularly older people, may be at extra risk of injury from falling during the winter, both because of ice and snow and because the cold can reduce people’s mobility, exacerbating conditions such as osteoarthritis and weakening muscles. Falls are the most frequent and serious type of accident in people aged 65 and over, and are the main cause of disability and the leading cause of death from injury among people aged over 75. Reduce the chance of falling over and resulting injury by strengthening muscles through exercise (a programme of sitting exercises can be found on the NHS website) and by having well-fitting footwear with good grip on the sole – in both shoes and slippers.
Dr Louise Smith, Director of Public Health at Norfolk County Council, said: “Winter is a struggle for many people, but for some it can put their health at serious risk. We don’t want anyone to suffer or die where it is preventable. So please look out for the more vulnerable people you know this winter, encourage and support them to follow the Stay Well This Winter advice and make use of the help that’s available – it could be a lifesaver.”
As well as promoting advice and useful information, Norfolk County Council has joined with Community Action Norfolk* to create a Stay Well This Winter fund, which is open for applications now. Grants of up to £1,000 are available to support voluntary groups and charities that work to assist vulnerable people in their local community who face particular hardship over the winter months. For more information and to apply to the Stay Well This Winter fund, visit http://www.norfolkfoundation.com/funds/stay-well-this-winter-fund/.
Last winter, a similar fund provided £1,000 to Age UK Norwich to help them run a ‘Cold Weather Friends’ campaign to help older people who had no family, friends or neighbours to help them. After providing references and undergoing a DBS check, the campaign matched 30 volunteers with older people who had asked for support and lived nearby, and in wintry weather the volunteer walked to their ‘cold weather friend’ to check on them. An additional 15 older people were called regularly by Age UK staff when the weather got colder. As a result of the success of the Cold Weather Friends, Age UK Norwich has continued to operate the service year round, and it is now called ‘City Friends’.
Margaret Dewsbury, Chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee, said: “Winter can be a very isolating time, preventing people from seeing friends and family and going about their daily lives as normal. This can impact on people’s health and wellbeing in so many ways, making them more likely to become unwell or injure themselves, which is obviously awful for them but also puts extra pressure on our already stretched health and social care services. Through a combination of making practical support available, such as through the Stay Well This Winter Fund, and everyone looking out for their vulnerable relatives, friends and neighbours, we really can make a huge difference to how people in Norfolk get through the winter.”
The Stay Well This Winter campaign in Norfolk is being supported by Norfolk County Council, Community Action Norfolk, district councils and the NHS clinical commissioning groups, with funding from the British Gas Energy Trust Healthy Homes Fund. As well as distributing Stay Well This Winter leaflets to GP surgeries and pharmacies, information to help people cope through the winter will be shared on social media and tagged with #norfolkwinter on Twitter.
For more information about Stay Well This Winter, visit www.norfolk.gov.uk/staywellthiswinter.