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Seasonal Greetings and Keeping Healthy in the Cold

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Viv Bennet photo 1 close-up-1In 2013 we started to make real progress in raising the profile of nurses' and midwives' work in improving and protecting people’s heath and in 2014 I want to aim for an even higher profile. We are demonstrating how we are use our knowledge of health and illness, our clinical skills and our relationships with individual people/patients families and communities to make a difference to health outcomes and inequalities. In this way we can really contribute to the discussions on prevention and supporting people to optimize their own health and wellbeing and ensure the potential of nursing and midwifery is fully utilised in future health and care services.

In 2013 the 6Cs became embedded as values and behaviours for excellence in nursing and, alongside this, I set out 6 areas for ‘personalised care AND population health’. These are: wider determinants of health, health improvement, heath protection, health care public health including making every contact count, supporting health wellbeing and independence and life course approaches to health.

As we move further into winter ‘keeping healthy in the cold’ is a key focus for both individual patients and at population level. All of the 6 apply and especially thinking about a life course approach to older people health, supporting independence and making every contact count.

There are some key elements from the Cold Weather Plan that it is worth thinking about, especially for older people:

• The cold starts harming health from relatively moderate cold temperatures, so we don’t need to wait for a very cold snap before taking action
• Many think of hypothermia as the major impact, but most excess deaths are from cardiovascular and respiratory disease (including flu), and dementia
• But it’s not just about deaths – there’s also a major burden of poor health associated with winter (physical and mental) and pressures on the NHS
• People who are particularly vulnerable are those aged 75 and over, those with chronic illnesses, poor mental health, children, people living in fuel poverty

• The indoor environment has a major impact on health (we spend about 80% of our time indoors in general, and the ill, old and disabled obviously spend much more) so an awareness of the environment in which our patients are living is important

There are simple things that you can do:

  • encouraging eligible groups to get the flu jab (including frontline staff)
  • signposting to sources of information and support such as the Keep Warm Keep Well booklet ( Link to Keep Warm Keep Well 2013), which contains lots of information about benefits and telephone helplines
  • being aware of, and referring patients in cold homes to local programmes for winter warmth (often run by councils or CVS groups)
  • reminding patients/carers to ensure they have sufficient supplies of medication etc in the event of severe winter weather which reduces access
  • thinking about your own business continuity in the event of severe winter weather

In 2014 we will be working with nurses, midwives and key strategic partners on the national community nursing strategy ‘prevention and population health’ workstream to maximise our contribution as nurses to improving the nation's health.

I hope you all have a happy Christmas and best wishes for the New Year!

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