NHS says keep warm and safe to beat the cold snap
By thepickler | Wednesday, February 01, 2012, 08:34
With temperatures tumbling over the next few days, health leaders are reminding people to look after themselves – and their neighbours – during the cold weather.
Met Office alerts put the risk of severe cold weather for the rest of the week at 90% for the South West (and 100% in the South East) with temperatures falling down the minus scale, especially at night.
Cold weather can be hazardous for health — particularly for older people, those with serious illness and people with respiratory conditions.
Most health problems – including falls and injuries - can be avoided if people can keep warm and take extra care when moving around outside. But cold weather can also make people with existing illnesses more vulnerable to stroke, heart attacks, and respiratory complications.
Everyone should look after their own health in cold weather, but the well and fit also need to keep an eye on others in their communities, as well.
Dr Gabriel Scally, Director of Public Health for NHS South of England, said:
"It's important to look out for our neighbours, and make sure they have all they need to help them through the cold spell.
"Check that elderly or more vulnerable people have at least one living room or area that's warm, that their heating is working properly and that they have food supplies in so they won't have to venture out. Icy pavements are as much of a hazard as icy roads, but they don't tend to get cleared as quickly.
"The NHS is always busy in winter with slips, trips and more cold-related illnesses. It is well prepared this year as it is every year, but a quick check on your neighbours can help take some of the load off our hospitals and doctors."
The Met Office expects the severe winter weather to last until Friday at least.
The Met Office alert is at level 3 until Friday morning. The Cold Weather alert system has four levels that depend on the severity of conditions.
The four levels are:
- Level 1 winter preparedness — long term planning
- Level 2 severe winter weather is forecast — 60 per cent risk of extreme cold lasting more than 48 hours
- Level 3 response to severe winter weather — we are experiencing severe weather which is expected to have an impact on peoples health and health services
- Level 4 major incident — exceptional widespread winter weather causing disruptions
Despite its comparatively mild winters, England does not compare well with northern European countries in terms of "excess" winter deaths – those deaths that are over and above the number that would be expected.
People in colder countries are generally much better prepared for cold weather, with well-insulated, well-heated, energy-efficient homes and warm, suitable outdoor clothing.
Around 27,000 more people die in England during the winter months than at other times of the year. This number can be substantially increased during very severe weather — there were 34,000 'excess' deaths during the winter of 2008-09. Most deaths are due to heart disease, strokes and respiratory problems, not hypothermia.
On average, cold-related deaths from heart disease increase almost immediately with the onset of cold weather, reaching their highest levels just two days after its arrival. The increase in incidences of stroke takes place later, at approximately five days after the onset of cold weather periods. It usually takes another week for deaths from respiratory illnesses to peak.