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Have a winter plan to keep yourself well

Two people in winter clothes hold hands and walk away down a snowy lane

With temperatures taking a chilly turn this week, it’s an ideal time for people of all ages across Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire West to dust off their personal winter health and care plan in case they or a loved one become unwell with a cough, cold, or flu.

From making sure you have simple cough and cold remedies and having a flu jab to protect yourself, to keeping warm by heating main rooms at home to at least 18°C if you can, here are some simple steps to take now.

  • Get your flu and COVID-19 vaccinations if you are eligible
  • Download the NHS app where you can find trusted NHS information and advice on hundreds of conditions and treatment, as well as access to NHS services
  • Get help early before your condition gets worse
  • Get repeat prescriptions in plenty of time before bank holidays
  • Seek advice from your local pharmacist if needed - find a pharmacy
  • Only use 999 and hospital Emergency Departments for life-threatening conditions
  • Stock up on over-the-counter cough and cold remedies
  • Make sure you have enough food in your home
  • Keep your main room at home heated to 18°C if you can
  • Have a list of emergency phone numbers handy by your phone
  • Keep an eye on elderly or frail friends, neighbours and relatives

If you do fall ill, advice from your local pharmacist or NHS 111 online can help.

Dr Abid Irfan, Director of Primary Care at Buckinghamshire Oxfordshire and Berkshire West Integrated Care Board, said: "We are gearing up for the busy winter period and it's important that we all do everything we can to stay well during cold temperatures and weather. A personal winter helps us prepare for when we start to feel unwell with seasonal illnesses.

"A personal winter plan might include making sure you have over-the-counter medicines ready at home and that you have the prescriptions you need especially over Christmas and New Year.

"It's also really important to have your free flu jab if you are eligible to keep both you and those around you safe. This is especially important for people over 65 and people with long-term health conditions. The flu and COVID-19 vaccines are one of the best ways of keeping yourself well, and defending against what can sometimes be nasty illnesses."

The NHS is asking the public to use services wisely during the winter and to take simple steps to help ensure care is available to patients who need it most. This includes using 111 online as the first port of call for health needs, and continuing to only use 999 if it is a life-threatening emergency.

Paula Gardner, Interim Chief Nursing Officer at Oxford University Hospitals (OUH), said: "Our priority is to ensure the most vulnerable and those in most urgent need can access services quickly and easily, whether that’s at one of our hospitals or in their own homes.

"You can also help us to help you by keeping Emergency Departments for life-threatening emergencies such as heart attack, breathing difficulties and severe bleeding. If you're not sure, go to NHS 111 online and they will be able to advise on what you should do to get the care you need."

As cold winter weather affects many people's long-standing health conditions, there is a rise in the number of patients who fall seriously ill with flu and other respiratory illnesses. Every year, the ambulance service faces a significant increase in calls to its 999 and NHS 111 services, and the public are urged to make the right call this winter.

Paul Jefferies, Assistant Director of Operations at South Central Ambulance Service, said: "The winter months always bring additional challenges, not just for our services but for the whole NHS. We have been working hard for a number of months to ensure we're ready for winter, but we need the public to help us by making the right call when it comes to any emergency or urgent health needs.

"You should only call 999 if you, or someone you're with, is suffering a serious or life-threatening emergency. This includes things like severe bleeding or burns, unconsciousness, someone not breathing or symptoms of stroke, heart attack or other life-threatening conditions. This will ensure that staff in our control rooms and out on the road can be available for patients who need our help immediately."

Community physical health and mental health services continue to support people's mental health during winter, including the county's out-of-hours GP service, community hospitals, the Oxfordshire NHS 24/7 Mental Health Helpline, and a range of other services to meet the needs of the local population.

Out of hours services in Oxfordshire

Marie Crofts, Chief Nurse at Oxford Health, said: "It's important, particularly during this challenging time, that we take a moment to prepare for winter, help one another and look after our whole wellbeing, as our physical and mental health are so closely linked.

"We are here to support people to stay healthy, live well and thrive, whether that's focusing on providing clinical care at home, through our eight community hospitals, county-wide district nursing teams, school nursing service, or help through our local mental health teams.

"If you are an adult or young person struggling with your mental wellbeing, NHS help is at hand with the Oxfordshire NHS 24-hour mental health helpline via NHS 111 online."