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DR KATE ARROW: What can we do to keep ourselves and loved ones well this winter?

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Cold weather can make some health problems worse, especially if you are in an older age group.
Cold weather can make some health problems worse, especially if you are in an older age group.

There is no doubt that we face significant challenges this winter. Our friends and colleagues working in NHS and social care services are working harder than ever before.

Our challenge is to catch up with the long waiting lists of people who need planned surgery, while remaining prepared for the normal winter surge of emergency patients.

As we hope to continue to recover from the pandemic, winter will certainly bring more demands for all of us, whether we work in health or social care, require these services, or are simply aiming to stay safe and well this winter.

Just as we see our gardens begin to hibernate, it can be tempting to do the same. This winter, I would like to create a ‘Call to care’ so that we all play our part in caring for our loved ones and local community.

Cold weather can make some health problems worse, especially if you are in an older age group, or if you have a long-term health condition. In Scotland, we see more people falling in winter and this can result in serious injury such as hip fracture. Around a third of people who fracture their hip need some form of care after discharge from hospital and a long period of recovery (Scottish National Hip audit 2021). This is one potentially preventable injury which we can help ourselves and our loved ones to avoid over the coming months.

I’d like to use this column to share some thoughts and evidence on how you can stay safe and well this winter. By putting this advice into action, for yourself and your loved ones and neighbours, you will be playing a massive part in reducing winter-related illness and injury. This will help us to continue our Covid recovery, allowing health and social care colleagues to ensure we can deliver the best possible care for the people who most need our services.

Dr Kate Arrow.
Dr Kate Arrow.
  1. Stay active: It is important to do some form of daily activity, this reduces the risk of muscle loss which can cause falls and general weakness. This can be as simple as walking or upper body exercises within the home. Daily activity is excellent for your body and mental health.
  2. Inner fuel: When someone has a long-term health condition, it can affect their appetite. This can lead to weight loss and can make them more vulnerable to infections, falls and fragile bones. It is important to maintain this inner fuel to stay strong through winter. Ensure you or your loved one has access to at least one hot meal a day and has supplies on stand-by in case of bad weather. Vitamin D & calcium supplements can also be helpful in maximising bone health.
  3. Fuel and finances: Winter could be difficult, with rising fuel prices. There is help available and if you are struggling with bills this winter, there are organisations which can provide information and support such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau on 01463 237664.
  4. Seek help when you need it, remember prevention is better than cure. If you are concerned that someone’s health is declining, seek help from their GP or NHS 24 on 111. If you feel their condition is life-threatening, call 999. More contacts can be found at https://tinyurl.com/yubsm2fp
  5. If you are able, please check on older neighbours and relatives, and those with heart or breathing (respiratory) problems, to make sure they are safe and well; warm enough, especially at night; and have food and medicines.

If you’re worried about a relative or a vulnerable neighbour, you may be able to seek help from Highland Council adult support and protection team on 0800 9020 042 or contact Age Scotland on 0800 12 44 222.

This is one of the busiest times for the NHS and its partner services, but you can stay safe and well by knowing where to turn if you need advice or care.

It is more important than ever that everyone accesses the right care in the right place. This will help you get help as quickly and as close to home as possible and ensure everyone can access the services and care they need, as quickly as possible. For more information and links to resources, please visit www.nhsinform.scot/right-care

Dr Kate Arrow, is a consultant anaesthetist and clinical lead for realistic medicine in NHS Highland.

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