We’ve hit the middle of winter and it’s cold, wet, and windy, with some snow and ice appearing across the country. At this time of year we can start expecting Met Office cold weather alerts.
This is normal winter weather – although after last year’s relatively mild (if very wet!) winter, it could be argued that we’re less used to it than we were.
There is no doubt that winter weather is bad for health. Each year we see increases in emergency admissions to hospital and deaths in winter, particularly in older adults and those with respiratory and other chronic diseases. These effects occur over a period of several weeks, with an early peak from cardiovascular disease and a later rise due to respiratory causes.
On the other hand snow and ice effects are more immediate, and tend to cause slips, trips and falls – perhaps surprisingly most often in the younger working age population. We think this is because older people tend to stay indoors when the weather’s bad for fear of falling outside. The downside of course is that it can be difficult to get out to the shops or chemists to pick up supplies and can cut people off from social contact.
So after a cold snap like this we can expect to see a variety of impacts on health and therefore health and social services, over a number of weeks. It’s really important we all do what we can to minimise the risks to our health and those around us.
Most of the advice is really common sense. Wear lots of layers, keep active, heat your home to at least 18 deg C, if you can. If you’re going out take extra care if walking in snowy or icy conditions, and if driving in potentially difficult conditions pay attention to the safe driving advice from the Highways Agency and have a blanket and phone in the car just in case.
Critically, keep an eye on the weather forecasts from the Met Office and plan what you do accordingly, as much as you can.
Even if the advice is straightforward and obvious, some people can find it difficult to do, or find that the weather can leave them feeling trapped, alone at home.
You might want to think about whether you could offer some practical help to family, friends and neighbours who might be in that situation. I’m often asked what sort of things people can do to help out and these are just a handful of ideas;
Perhaps you could offer to do their shopping or pick up a prescription? Would it help to clear their path or drive; would they like a lift somewhere? Is there a form that needs to be filled in to get a benefit they’re entitled to that they’re having problems with?
No-one wants to get ill, and the winter is a particularly risky time for many of us. That’s why it’s so important that we all do what we can to help ourselves and others stay healthy during cold the winter. For more hints and tips on staying well through the winter take a look at our Keep Warm Keep well leaflet or visit a dedicated cold weather website set up by the Met Office.