A group of Bucks-based health and social care organisations have issued advice for residents bracing themselves for winter.
The advice has been issued as winter is a high-pressure season for health and social care services, when lower temperatures can lead to increased demands on all services.
Director of urgent and emergency care and winter director for the Buckinghamshire Integrated Care Partnership, Frances Woodroffe said: “We’ve been working hard across Buckinghamshire with hospitals, GPs, local authority, mental health, ambulance and social services as well as the voluntary sector to prepare for the extra challenge of winter.
"By working jointly we can find new ways to improve services and ensure patients get the right care, in the right place, for their needs.
“There are many things being put in place to help achieve this, including support to help people remain well and independent at home, children’s community hubs and community and ambulance support for falls and frailty to reduce the need for hospital admission. The flu vaccination is offered to health and social care employees so that the workforce stays healthy to keep all services running, and we also offer a flu service to care homes.
“Integrating our out of hours services means NHS111 can book appointments directly with GPs, who are available for longer, on weekday evenings and at weekends to give patients more access and better convenience.
“But it’s very important that people do not stay in hospital longer than necessary, so while hospitals will have more beds to help manage winter demands, we are making extra provision for care home beds as well as a range of community services to help people stay well and independent in their own homes. This is supported by adult social care working together with hospital discharge teams and is just another example of how integrated working is making a difference to patients and supporting our NHS.”
And Dr Raj Bajwa, a local GP and clinical chair of Buckinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group offered advice for anyone who feels unwell during the winter months.
He said: “We want all Buckinghamshire residents to know what to do if they need urgent medical help or are unsure.
“If you think you need medical help and it’s urgent, or you are unsure what to do, call 111 – the free NHS number which is available 24/7. Trained staff can connect you with a nurse, doctor, or mental health nurse. They can also give telephone advice, or book an appointment with a GP or the Wycombe Hospital Urgent Treatment Centre, if that is what is needed. It’s also available online: 111.nhs.uk/
“Why not try the app Ask NHS – it’s free to download to any mobile device and provides patients with a symptom checker, self-care advice and access to book the most appropriate GP appointment.
“Of course a high street pharmacist is a great first port of call when anyone feels under the weather, offering clinical advice and over the counter remedies as well as the flu jab.
“But the flu jab is the best way to protect yourself and your family this winter from a nasty virus that can be life-threatening to vulnerable people – which is why it’s free to those who need it most.
“Many people find winter especially challenging to their mental wellbeing. So if you have concerns about stress, anxiety or depression talk to a GP or go online to Healthy Minds - an NHS service for talking therapies, and practical support for adults with a Bucks GP: www.oxfordhealth.nhs.uk/healthyminds/ You could also try Every Mind Matters which offers practical advice www.nhs.uk/oneyou/
“The important thing is to seek advice or help right away for any illness before it gets worse.”
And Gill Quinton, executive director for communities, health and adult social care at Buckinghamshire County Council said that looking out for vulnerable neighbours or elderly relatives can often make a big difference.
She said: “By being a good neighbour to older people you can make a real difference to someone who may be lonely or vulnerable.
“It’s as simple as offering to get some shopping for an older person– especially in icy weather so that they don’t struggle out and risk a nasty fall.
"It’s also a good idea to be ready for winter – so look out for road gritting and weather updates which are broadcast on local radio and social media to help all residents to travel safely and be ready for winter.”
More information about being prepared for winter including: staying healthy, flu; volunteering, roads; school closures; floods and emergencies can be found on the Buckinghamshire County Council website www.buckscc.gov.uk/services/community/ready-for-winter/