Wednesday, November 27, 2013.
With winter fast approaching, the Cold Weather
Plan for England has been published by Public Health England (PHE) today, in
collaboration with the Department of Health, NHS England and the Local
Government Association (LGA).
A Winter Health Watch website - https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england/series/winter-health-watch - has also been
launched that brings together PHE’s weekly monitoring of winter-related
illnesses and deaths.
There are on average 24,000 excess winter deaths
per year in England, many of which are preventable. The Cold Weather Plan aims
to prevent avoidable harm to health, by alerting people to the negative health
effects of cold weather, and enabling them to prepare and respond
The emphasis of this year’s plan is on long term
planning and winter action and preparedness (levels 0 and 1). There are
several interventions local authorities, the NHS, individuals and communities
can do to help prevent cold-related illnesses, before cold weather sets in.
These include having your flu vaccination if you are in a risk group, ensuring
homes are properly insulated, and making sure heating systems are routinely
As in previous years, the Met Office
will trigger cold weather alerts from 1 November 2013 to 31 March 2014, on the
basis of either low temperatures of 2°C or less, or severe winter weather
(heavy snow or widespread ice).
The five levels in the cold weather alert system are:
Level 0 (long term planning)
Level 1 (winter preparedness and action)
Level 2 (severe winter weather is forecast - average temperature of 2°C or
lower is predicted within 48 hours, with 60% confidence)
Level 3 (response to severe winter weather - average temperature of 2°C or
lower is occurring)
Level 4 (major incident, declared by central government)
Dr Paul Cosford, Director for Health Protection & Medical Director at
PHE, warns that in colder weather, keeping yourself warm is essential to
staying healthy, especially for the very young, older people or those with a
chronic condition such as heart disease and asthma.
“There are a range of health problems associated with cold housing and
winter weather,” he says. “But in particular, a cold indoor or outdoor
environment can make heart and respiratory problems worse, and can be fatal. This
is why the Cold Weather Plan sets out a series of actions that health and
social care organisations, voluntary groups, and individuals can take and plan
for cold temperatures to help reduce cold-related illnesses and deaths.”
Jane Ellison, Public Health Minister, points out that the elderly and those
with long term illnesses are particularly at risk during the winter months, so
it’s crucial that people stay warm and that we all find time to check in on
those who may be vulnerable.
“Young children, older people and at-risk groups are also vulnerable to flu
which is why all two and three year olds and those over 65 are being offered
the flu vaccine,” she says. “It’s also vital that health services are ready to
cope with the inevitable increase in pressure as temperatures drop, which is
why I strongly encourage all frontline NHS staff to get their flu vaccine.”
Ms Ellison says the coalition government is also investing £500 million
over the next two years to help ensure A&E departments are well prepared
Cllr Katie Hall, Chair of the LGA’s Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “On
average, 24,000 deaths occur in England per year as a result of the cold
temperatures. Most are aged over 75, and their deaths could have been avoided
with better preparation for cold weather.
“As the cold weather sets in we need everyone in our communities to be on
the look-out for signs that something might be wrong. Whether it be milk bottles
left outside, newspapers stuck in the letterbox or curtains drawn all day, any
sort of unusual activity could be a sign that something is wrong and that
someone is in need of help.
"Council teams will be on standby to help with everything from
carrying out emergency household repairs like defrosting pipes and fixing
frozen boilers to delivering hot meals and portable heaters, and will be
checking in on elderly and vulnerable residents to make sure they are okay.”
Top tips for
keeping warm and well this winter:
Keep warm by
setting your heating to the right temperature (18-21°C).
Have your flu
jab to protect yourself and others from influenza, if in an eligible group
Look out for friends, relatives and neighbours who may be vulnerable to the
Stay tuned to the weather forecast and plan ahead with supplies.
Have regular hot meals and drinks throughout the day and keep active to
help your body stay warm.
support to make your home more energy efficient, improve your heating or help
heating and cooking appliances checked regularly.
Wear a few layers of thin clothing rather than one thick layer, and when you
need to go outside wear shoes with slip resistant, good grip soles.