Be prepared for the winter months - Hamilton

Date published: 07 December 2015

Health Minister Simon Hamilton has urged people to prepare for the winter months ahead, while highlighting plans to deal with increased demand on the health service.

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Earlier this month, Mr Hamilton welcomed an additional £47.6million for Health and Social Care (HSC), of which £40million was invested specifically to tackle waiting lists. He also announced £4million for HSC Trusts and primary care to manage increased demand during the busy winter months.

Simon Hamilton said: "This £4million funding will be used to support capacity in a number of areas including increasing diagnostic capacity; additional bed capacity to support anticipated increases in demand; additional domiciliary care and nursing home placements; additional GP surgeries in-hours, additional GP, nursing and call handler support out of hours; and additional ambulance cover.

"My Department works closely with the HSC Board (HSCB) and Trusts to ensure they have arrangements in place to effectively manage any additional demands on emergency departments and other services resulting from winter and unscheduled care pressures. The HSCB monitor service continuity and, should a prolonged spell of severe whether lead to a surge in activity, the HSCB, in consultation with the Department, can make the decision to escalate these arrangements."

The Minister said that health and social care (HSC) services come under increasing pressure during the winter months and our health services must prioritise resources to deal with urgent and emergency cases. He urged people to think carefully about how they use services, should they or their family become unwell or have an accident this winter.

He said: "Remember, emergency and 999 services are for life threatening and serious conditions. Before you dial 999 or go to your local Emergency Department, think how serious your condition is. There are other options, for example many common ailments can be dealt with at home or by seeking the advice of a pharmacist. GP and out-of-hours services can advise on more serious health concerns. I would encourage people to ‘Choose Well’ and to consider the range of healthcare services available to them and to choose appropriately."

Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride, said that people should take steps to look after their health this winter and encouraged those in 'at risk' groups, as well as people over 65 and eligible children, to avail of the free flu vaccination. He said: "One simple step you can take to keep well this winter is to get the flu vaccination. For those who are 'at risk', flu can be a very serious, even life-threatening illness, which could result in hospital admission. Getting vaccinated against flu protects you and others around you."

Dr McBride said it is important to remember that cold weather can have a serious impact in the health and wellbeing of older people. He said: "We're all likely to feel the chill in winter and bad weather can disrupt our daily lives. But it's important to remember that older people and those with long term illnesses are particularly vulnerable to the cold.

"Keeping warm over the winter months can help prevent colds, flu or more serious health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression. If you have an elderly or vulnerable friend or neighbour, look out for them during the winter months to make sure they are safe, warm and well. Being prepared can make a huge difference if extreme weather hits."

Some simple, practical steps can be taken to stay well throughout the winter months:

  • wear warm clothes - layers are best; if outside in icy conditions, wear boots
  • keep sufficient stocks of food and medicines
  • check the weather forecast regularly
  • take care outdoors, especially if roads and pavements are icy
  • eat a balanced diet, including at least one hot meal a day
  • heat all rooms used during the day - living room to around 18-21°C (65-70°F) and the rest of your house to at least 16°C (61°F)
  • service boilers and appliances annually by a registered engineer to protect from the dangers of carbon monoxide
  • maintain contact with trusted callers, friends and relatives should you need assistance; keep your mobile phone charged

Notes to editors: 

  1. People over 65, pregnant women and ‘at risk’ children and adults are eligible to receive the free flu vaccine. All pre-school children aged two years and over on 1 September 2015, and those in primaries one to seven, are being offered a flu vaccine which comes in the form of a nasal spray.
  2. Flu Aware NI is a Public Health Agency website with information on seasonal flu. This site provides a comprehensive guide to flu, including information for the public on who is most at risk, who needs a seasonal flu vaccine, how to get the vaccine and what to do if you think you have the flu, as well as information on prevention of further infection.
  3. The 'Choose Well' campaign aims to help people gain a better understanding of the range of services available, from self-care at one end right up to 999 and Emergency Departments at the other. It encourages the public to choose the most appropriate option, so they can get better, quicker. More information is available online at nidirect.
  4. 'Winter help & advice' is available on nidirect.
  5. The Met Office Get Ready for Winter campaign launched on 26 October 2015.
  6. Information on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning is available from HSENI, nidirect and PHA
  7. For all media queries, please contact DHSSPS Information Office on 028 9052 0074, or out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 076 9971 5440 and your call will be returned. Follow us on Twitter @healthdpt

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