Press release

First taste of winter

As temperatures start to fall PHE is urging people to think now how the onset of cooler weather could impact their health.

Every year more than 25,000 extra people die in England over the winter period and many of these deaths are, experts say, preventable.

Today (1 December 2014) the Met Office has said that by later this week we will get our first taste of cooler weather and temperatures are expected to fall to about what we’d expect for this time of year.

The winter planning period started on November 1 2014 when PHE and the Met Office began its cold weather alert system, a programme which enables the agencies to make public warnings when particularly chilly weather is forecast. The Met Office’s winter season begins today.

Mark Wilson, a meteorologist Met Office, said:

With today being the start of winter, this week looks likely to see temperatures falling closer to the early December average. This means that by day, temperatures will be around 7 to 10 Celsius, with some nights seeing temperatures fall close to freezing, particularly in more rural areas. As we look ahead to the rest of December, a return to the unseasonably mild conditions of recent times is not currently expected.

Dr Angie Bone, Head of Extreme Events and Health Protection at Public Health England, said:

Cold weather can lead to serious health problems, such as heart attacks and strokes, and can make chest diseases worse.

So before the really cold weather arrives this winter think now how the cold may have an effect on your friends and family. The impact of cold weather is felt most by older people, the very young and those who have pre-existing health conditions, if you know someone in one of these groups, and most of us do, have a look at the cold weather plan or the Keep Warm Keep Well leaflet for practical guidance on what to do to.

Much of our advice on protecting health indoors is common sense. People should eat warm food and drink hot drinks, heat homes to at least 18C and move about to keep warm. But it’s worth repeating this as some people find these things difficult to do without help. We’re also urging everyone to think of someone they know who may be affected by the cold, an elderly relative, friend or neighbour, someone not in the best of health or with very young children, to take the time to think about what you can do to help protect their health this winter.

Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s clinical director for acute care, said:

As a doctor who has spent some 30 years working in A&E, every winter, doctors and nurses see a big increase in the number of people, particularly older and frail people, who are admitted to hospital because of respiratory or other chronic conditions usually worsened by immobility, the cold and viral illnesses.

People often don’t seek advice for wheezes, coughs and sneezes because they don’t think it’s serious enough. Our advice is visit your pharmacist if you’re feeling under the weather, no problem is too small and they are a highly trained and trusted source of health advice.

Follow #winterready (for message alert levels 0 and 1) and #weatheraware (alert levels 2 to 4) on Twitter for winter health advice.

Top tips keep yourself healthy and your home warm this winter:

  • have the flu vaccine if you’re eligible
  • heat your home to at least 18C to minimise the risk to health, if heating the whole house is a problem heat the living room during the day and your bedroom just before you go to sleep
  • 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
  • have all gas, solid fuel and oil burning appliances (i.e. boilers, heaters, cookers) serviced by a registered engineer
  • undertake energy efficiency improvements to your home or encourage your landlord to do so
  • look out for older friends and neighbours, those with existing health conditions or young children
  • protect water pipes from freezing by insulating them
  • information about heating benefits you may be eligible for

Ends

Notes to editors

  • The Cold Weather Plan for England is updated each year to provide health and social care services with emergency planning and preparedness guidance in the event of severe weather and periods of cold weather.
  • For more information about the Cold-Weather Alert system from the Met Office, please visit the Met office website.
  • Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Website: www.gov.uk/phe. Twitter: @PHE_uk, Facebook: www.facebook.com/PublicHealthEngland

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