Doctors recommend simple steps to take control of your health this winter

NHS experts are recommending that people take a few simple steps to protect their health this winter, especially if they have a long-term health condition. It's a message that resonates with RAY's own Winter Weather Agents project.

If you, or someone you know, has a health condition – such as asthma, diabetes, MS, or a chest, heart, liver or kidney complaint – take control this winter by taking a few simple steps.

Get a flu jab. It can protect you all winter.  If you have a long term health condition and you catch flu you’re at a greater risk of complications.  The flu jab is quick and free for those with underlying health conditions as well as over 65s, pregnant women and carers.  Contact your GP surgery to find out details of flu clinics or to book an appointment.

Sounds simple, but visit your pharmacy.  The pharmacist will give you advice on the best over the counter medication for common winter complaints such as coughs and colds that suit your condition and medication you may already be taking.  They will also advise you about what remedies to keep in your medicine cabinet – from pain relief, to antiseptic cream and plasters for minor cuts and bruises.  You can find out which pharmacies are close to you by visiting www.nhs.uk.

Catch it, Kill it, Bin it.  Almost everyone will have a cough or cold at some point this winter. Don’t spread your germs. Cough or sneeze into a tissue, put it in the bin and wash your hands to stop the spread of germs. It really is that simple. Use symptom relief from the pharmacy and take plenty of rest. The GP won’t be able to prescribe anything to help.

Cold outside?  It’s the perfect excuse to eat well and wrap up warm. Keep warm inside and out, by keeping active and having regular hot drinks and nutritious meals. If you have breathing problems even a small change in temperature can affect you. So take extra care.

Think ahead.Make sure that you have enough medication to last when your GP surgery may be closed. It’s important that you book any routine appointments with your practice in plenty of time and ensure that you have enough medication to last you over these times. Don’t use A&E as a back-up pharmacy, plan ahead.

Know when NHS services near your home are open.A&E and GPs aren’t your only options. You’ll often be seen quicker at other NHS services, so check out NHS Choices (www.nhs.uk)for your nearest pharmacy, walk-in centre or minor injuries unit.  It’s better to do this first, rather than face a long wait in A&E. Alternatively if it’s urgent, but not an emergency and you’re not sure what to do, call NHS 111.

Personalised Care Plan?  It’s a good idea for those with a long term condition to have an up-to-date personalised care plan.  A care plan will help you manage your condition better - especially during the cold weather.  It will also help loved ones know what to do if you do need medical attention.  If you’re not sure if you have a Personalised Care Plan, contact your GP for more information.

Dr Vicky Pleydell, Clinical Chief Officer at Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby CCG, said: “If you have a long-term health condition it is really important that you look after yourself as the weather draws in.  By planning ahead and taking a few simple steps, you can help yourself to stay healthy and on top of your condition.  No-one likes being ill or wants to spend time in hospital so we all need to take responsibility for looking after ourselves as best we can.

“A&E is meant for real emergencies and saving lives, although it is often a first stop for many people who aren’t feeling quite right.  We need to remember that A&E, and dialling 999, are emergency services that should only be used in the event of a serious injury, or when someone shows the symptoms of critical illness.

“The right NHS services are everywhere – we just need to stop and think – and then choose the right one.”