Health matters

Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
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AS part of our ongoing series of health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire County, including Buxton and the High Peak, talks about the effects of cold weather.

Each year the cold weather takes its toll on the lives of hundreds of elderly and vulnerable people, who unnecessarily die because of the increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, falls and respiratory illnesses.

An estimated 27,000 extra people die every winter nationally – a fifth more than during the summer. So, emergency steps preparing the NHS for cold weather snaps will help save hundreds of lives this Winter.

We welcome the recent launch of the Department of Health’s Cold Weather Plan as it will protect the most vulnerable from the potentially devastating consequences of a big freeze.

Last year, many parts of Derbyshire were hit by the severe winter weather, with the NHS and Council emergency planning officers coordinating local efforts to ensuring vital health services were maintained.

Under the new system, the Met Office will issue the NHS and other local organisations with cold weather alerts under a four-level alert system. Depending on the severity of the conditions, the NHS will be expected to carry out certain duties. For example, under Level 2 health and social care teams will visit pensioners to ensure their homes are well insulated and advise them on benefits they are entitled to which could improve energy efficiency. The system will remain in place until March 2012.

In Derbyshire services have worked closely together in previous winters to ensure that essential services remain accessible to all those who need them, and last winter was a particularly severe test of our preparations and our resolve.

The new cold weather plan will ensure that we continue to be well armed against the impact of another potentially severe winter, and that a coordinated response will again be in place across all key organisations working for people living in Derbyshire. This will help us further protect those most at risk from severe winter conditions and save lives.

While the NHS is working hard to protect patients this winter, it’s important that we all do everything we can to stay healthy in the cold weather.

Those most at risk of the flu, including the over 65s, pregnant women and those with heart disease, breathing problems, diabetes and other long-term illnesses, are being reminded that they should contact their local GP to arrange to have a free flu jab. The winter flu jab is by far the best way to protect against the effects of the virus – which can lead to serious complications, or be fatal.

An inadequately heated home can also be critical to good health, and when temperatures fall below 21º during the day and below 16º at the night there is a far greater risk of heart attacks, strokes and breathing problems. Contact your local authority in the first instance to find out about any local grants and national schemes that you may be eligible for. You can also download a copy of our guide to Staying and Healthy and Warm in Derbyshire at

So, let’s win the Cold War by staying warm and keeping well.