With the clocks going back and winter fast approaching, Norfolk County Council Public Health and its partners are encouraging people to look out for others who may struggle to cope during colder weather with the Stay Well This Winter campaign.
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.
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 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 some simple 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. The flu vaccination is offered to those who are at increased risk from the effects of flu. These include children aged 2-8, people aged 65 and over, pregnant women and those with long term health conditions. 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 are eligible for the free flu jab at www.nhs.uk/flujab
• Ask your pharmacist which medicines should be in your cabinet and how to help you and your family get through the winter season. Many over-the-counter medicines (including paracetamol and ibuprofen) are available to relieve symptoms of common winter ailments such as cold, sore throat, cough, sinusitis or earache. Always seek advice from your pharmacist at the first sign of a cough or cold before it gets more serious.
• 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 at least 18°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 by contacting Age UK Norfolk on 0300 500 1217. There’s more information about the fund at www.norfolkfoundation.com/surviving-winter-2017-18/. To find out if you can get help to make your home more energy efficient visit www.gov.uk/energy-grants-calculator and the Energy Saving Trust provides advice on making your home more energy efficient at www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/home-energy-efficiency
Make sure you or someone you know is keeping warm by dressing appropriately for the cold, wearing several layers which trap warm air better than one bulky layer, 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, because of ice and snow and also 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 (www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/sitting-exercises-for-older-people.aspx has suggestions for sitting exercises) 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: “Cold homes contribute significantly to poor health but keeping warm can be a real challenge for those on low incomes, older people, and those with limited mobility or long-term conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease.
“Through Stay Well This Winter we aim to give people practical advice and show them where they can get support to help prevent people from becoming cold and isolated and suffering from ill health.”
As part of the Stay Well This Winter campaign, Norfolk Community Foundation is offering £38,000 worth of community grants to help vulnerable people in the local community who face particular hardship over the winter months. Grants of up to £3,000 each are available for projects such as lunch clubs for the elderly, drop-in services and outreach for the homeless, and befriending schemes. For more information and to apply, visit www.norfolkfoundation.com/funds/communities-that-care-stay-well-this-winter-fund/
Margaret Dewsbury, Chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee, said: “We would encourage everyone to check on older or vulnerable neighbours, friends, or relatives to make sure they are okay, that they’re warm enough, especially at night, and have stocks of food and medicines.
“We’re not in the grip of winter yet but there are things you can do now – like having a free flu jab if you’re eligible – to get prepared for the colder months. With a combination of the community fund available and everyone looking out for each other, we hope to make a big 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 Public Health, Norfolk’s NHS clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), district councils, Community Action Norfolk, Norfolk Community Foundation, Age UK, Norfolk Fire Service, libraries and pharmacies.
As well as distributing Stay Well This Winter leaflets to GP surgeries and pharmacies and targeted information being sent via assisted bin collections, 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