Health bosses prepare for big freeze conditions

EMERGENCY steps preparing the NHS for cold weather snaps will help save dozens of lives in the Amber Valley, according to NHS Derbyshire.

Last year 74 extra people died in the Amber Valley because of treacherous freezing conditions – which leaves the most vulnerable cold, alone and more susceptible to heart problems, strokes, respiratory illness and falls.

Now health bosses from NHS Derbyshire say they welcome the publication of the Department of Health’s cold weather plan, as it will protect the most vulnerable from the potentially devastating consequences of a big freeze.

Many parts of Derby and Derbyshire came to a standstill last winter because of severe weather, with the NHS and Council emergency planning officers coordinating local efforts to ensuring vital health services were maintained.

Under the new system, the Met Office will issue the NHS and other local organisations with cold weather alerts under a four-level alert system. Depending on the severity of the conditions, the NHS will be expected to carry out certain duties. For example, under Level 2 health and social care teams will visit pensioners to ensure their homes are well insulated and advise them on benefits they are entitled to which could improve energy efficiency. The system will remain in place until March 2012.

Dr Bruce Laurence, acting director of public health for NHS Derbyshire County, said: “Each year the cold weather takes its toll on the lives of hundreds of elderly and vulnerable people, who unnecessarily die because of the increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, falls and respiratory illnesses.

“In Derbyshire and Derby services have worked closely together in previous winters to ensure that essential services remain accessible to all those who need them, and last winter was a particularly severe test of our preparations and our resolve. The new cold weather plan will ensure that we continue to be well armed against the impact of another potentially severe winter, and that a coordinated response will again be in place across all key organisations working for people living in Derby and Derbyshire. This will help us further protect those most at risk from severe winter conditions and save lives.”

An estimated 27,000 extra people die every winter nationally – a fifth more than during the summer. A “cold weather death” is defined by the Association of Public Health Observatories as “observed winter deaths minus expected deaths based on non-winter deaths”.

Those most at risk of the flu, including the over 65s, pregnant women and those with heart disease, breathing problems, diabetes and other long-term illnesses, are being reminded that they should contact their local GP to arrange to have a free flu jab. The winter flu jab is by far the best way to protect against the effects of the virus – which can lead to serious complications, or be fatal.