Play your part to help the NHS through busy winter

Members of the group "A present for me Nana and Granddad Morpeth" including Dawn Smith, Barbara Ross and Jan Clarke with staff at The Whalton Unit before giving presents to our patients.

Members of the group "A present for me Nana and Granddad Morpeth" including Dawn Smith, Barbara Ross and Jan Clarke with staff at The Whalton Unit before giving presents to our patients.

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Happy New Year and welcome to the first column of 2017. As we all return to normality following Christmas and New Year, we thought we would use this column to give you advice on how you can help the NHS help you this winter.

Winter is always an extremely busy time for the NHS — and this year is certainly no different, with more people calling on the health service and high numbers of very ill people needing to be admitted to hospital.

An event was held at The Whalton Unit to say farewell to chaplain Rev Jeremy Cooper. He is pictured on the right with trust chaplaincy colleagues.

An event was held at The Whalton Unit to say farewell to chaplain Rev Jeremy Cooper. He is pictured on the right with trust chaplaincy colleagues.

Like the NHS across the country, we are experiencing unprecedented demand for our urgent and emergency care services.

And it’s really important that people take accountability for looking after themselves well, and using NHS services wisely.

We are supporting the NHS’ Stay Well This Winter campaign, a joint initiative from NHS England and Public Health England to help people with long-term conditions and those over the age of 65 to be prepared for winter and to take measures to ward off common winter illnesses.

Cold weather can be very harmful, especially for people aged 65 or older, as well as for people with long-term conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchitis, emphysema, diabetes, or heart and kidney problems.

For too long, A&E has been the default position for too many people and we’re urging people to stop and think before attending.

It’s really important to keep warm in winter — both inside and outdoors — as it can help to prevent colds, flu and more serious health problems, such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.

At the first sign of a cough or a cold, you should get help from your pharmacist before it gets more serious.

And make sure you speak to your pharmacist about medicines you should have at home.

By taking these steps it will help you and your family be prepared for winter.

If you experience problems which are urgent and cannot be looked after by visiting a pharmacy or a GP, we would urge you to ring NHS 111 for advice on which service to access.

The service is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and an advisor will direct you to the most appropriate place for the severity of your condition.

For urgent, but not life-threatening, walk-in conditions, such as a minor head, ear or eye problems, a broken nose or nose bleed, a sprain, strain, cut or bite, a minor fracture or broken bone, abscess and wound infection or children’s minor injuries, the most suitable place could be our urgent care centre at Wansbeck General Hospital.

This service is open from 8am to midnight every day. Waiting times are considerably shorter than those at The Northumbria Emergency Care Hospital as patients do not need to wait behind serious emergencies.

Of course, if you have a serious, life-threatening emergency, please ring 999.

So far this winter, however, we have seen many attendances at The Northumbria hospital from people who simply should not have been there.

Last week our trust joined forces with hospitals across the region to issue a stark warning to the public to stop misusing emergency NHS services for minor ailments. This is putting unnecessary pressure on hospitals and more seriously ill patients at risk.

Across the region between December 1 and Christmas Day, more than 53,000 people attended major A&E departments in hospitals, yet less than 30 per cent — just over 15,000 people — actually needed admission to hospital for emergency treatment.

Examples over the festive season from across the North East include people attending A&E with backache, toothache, broken finger nails, excessive alcohol consumption, coughs, colds and sore throats, and sickness and diarrhoea.

For too long, A&E has been the default position for too many people and we’re urging people to stop and think before attending.

Please don’t waste the time of busy hospital teams or 999 services, who are there to look after patients who are very sick and who do need immediate medical help.

During winter there tends to be more bugs around. However, please remember do not come into hospital if you have symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting as these can easily spread to patients in hospital. Please wait until you are symptom-free for 48 hours.

We know how important it is for patients who are staying in hospital to hear from their loved ones so if you are ill and unable to visit in person, please ring the team and they can arrange for you to speak to your friend or relative.

Just as it’s important for people in hospital to have contact with people they know, it’s also a good idea for residents to look in on elderly friends, relatives and neighbours at this time of year.

This is especially the case if the weather is bad and they are unable to get out. Check that they are warm enough and have enough to eat.

I hope you find this advice useful.

It helps you to stay well this winter and enables you to play your part in helping the NHS to run as efficiently as it can over the busy winter months.

Before I sign off, I also wanted mention a couple of events we held at The Whalton Unit over Christmas.

Part of our trust’s programme of activities in the run-up to Christmas to spread festive cheer to our patients, visitors and staff, was our carol service. It was a lovely event and was greatly enjoyed by everyone on the ward.

After the service we held a tea to say farewell to the Rev Jeremy Cooper, who has retired as our healthcare chaplain.

For the last couple of years, Jeremy has provided support to patients on the unit, often during difficult times of their lives, regardless of their religious beliefs, and ensuring their spiritual needs have been met alongside their physical needs.

Jeremy will be missed by all of us on the unit and by members of the chaplaincy team across the trust. During his time with the trust, he has been a reliable and trusted friend and colleague to many, and we wish him well for his continuing ministry within the parish of Morpeth.

A few days after the carol service, we welcomed the local group A Present For Me Nana And Granddad Morpeth, which has been set up by Barbara Ross to donate Christmas gifts to elderly people in The Whalton Unit and care homes in the area.

It was a lovely gesture and was greatly appreciated by our patients, particularly those who do not have family or friends to visit, and we’d like to thank the group very much for the donations.

That just leaves me to pay tribute to our dedicated staff who provided high quality care to our patients throughout Christmas and New Year — thank you, and here’s to a happy and healthy 2017.