The NHS is urging people across the North East and North Cumbria to take care of themselves and their neighbours as freezing weather blows in this week.
Cold weather can be very harmful to health and around 25,000 more people die over the course of each winter compared with other times of the year.
Exposure to cold indoor or outdoor temperatures increases blood pressure, thereby increasing the risk of heart failure, kidney disease, stroke or dementia.
Cold temperatures can also make blood more likely to clot, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke. And cold can also affect the respiratory system, which reduces the lung's ability to fight off infection explaining why lower temperatures are linked with bronchitis and pneumonia.
The NHS advises elderly and people with long-term conditions to keep warm, both indoors and out, to heat their homes to at least 18C, and there is still time, as well as vaccine stocks, to get the flu jab to help avoid unnecessary hospital stays.
NHS England’s medical director for Cumbria and the North East, Professor Chris Gray, said: “Cold weather is harmful and we need to take care of ourselves and our neighbours. Please take time to check that your neighbours are okay and if you don’t need to go out, stay in and keep warm.
“It is vital that vulnerable people take preventative steps to stay well such as wrapping up warm, avoiding slips and trips on ice, stocking up medicine cabinets and making sure prescription drugs are ordered and collected.”
Colder weather is not only associated with an increase in deaths but also has a significant impact on the number of people becoming ill, increasing the winter pressures felt by health care services.
Falls are one of the main causes of older people attending accident and emergency departments and this can sometimes lead to lengthy hospital stays.
GPs and primary care clinicians see and treat 90% of all illness episodes, and for every one degree centigrade temperature drop below five degrees, there is a 10% increase in the number of older people consulting their GP for breathing problems.
Professor Gray said: “Emergency departments are under huge pressure and many winter attendances are due to issues which could have been avoided had people asked for medical advice at the first sign of illness.
“Health advice is available by calling 111, on the NHS Choices website or from your local pharmacist or GP. Your local pharmacist is trained in managing minor illnesses and using a pharmacy as the first point of call for advice helps to free up GP time for urgent appointments and reduces non-emergency A&E visits.”
NHS England's Stay Well Pharmacy campaign is highlighting the benefits of seeing a local pharmacy early for concerns such as sore throats, coughs, colds, tummy troubles, teething, and aches and pains.
Parents and carers of children are particularly encouraged to use their local pharmacy as it offers families a quick way of getting expert clinical help.
If you care for children, the child health app is free to download and offers a wealth of advice and support.
Search nhs.uk/staywellpharmacy for more information and to help you find your nearest NHS pharmacy and opening hours.