Take steps now to guard against seasonal illnesses

The winners of Northumbria Healthcare's 2018 awards
The winners of Northumbria Healthcare's 2018 awards

With winter almost upon us, I’m going to focus on how we can all take steps to ensure that we’re prepared for the months ahead and inform you of what we’re doing at the trust to help stop the spread of flu.

I’ll also let you know how you can be more involved with our trust by signing up to become a member.

The NHS winter campaign.

The NHS winter campaign.

The spells of cold weather that we’ve had so far are surely a flavour of what’s to come for the rest of the year and the early part of 2019.

Flu vaccinations have been in full swing at GP practices across the area for some time now, and I would urge everyone who is at increased risk of the effects of flu, and therefore eligible for a free NHS flu jab, and hasn’t already had one, to make an appointment as soon as possible.

Those who are eligible for a free flu jab include people over 65 and their carers, people with long-term conditions, pregnant women and health and care staff.

At our trust, every year we strongly urge our frontline staff, and those who come into contact with our patients, to get a flu vaccination.

And we’re aiming for 100 per cent of every team to be vaccinated.

We all have a responsibility for the safety of our patients and by having a flu vaccination we can protect them, ourselves and our family by not spreading unnecessary germs.

Across our trust we have peer vaccinators, whose role it is to vaccinate their colleagues, alongside our occupational health team.

And at the Whalton Unit and Morpeth NHS Centre we’re in the midst of doing this.

Having a flu vaccination is just one way to make sure you’re prepared as you can be for winter, traditionally the time of year when pressure increases on NHS services.

Winter can bring all sorts of seasonal bugs and illnesses, including coughs and colds, sickness and upset stomachs.

Although these are pretty unpleasant, they usually clear up within a few days to a week and there’s no need to visit your GP.

You can get quick, expert and confidential advice from your local pharmacist, who can tell you the best medicines or treatment to use.

So the important message is, don’t leave your symptoms to get worse — ask your pharmacist first.

It’s good practice to keep a good supply of over-the-counter medicines at home, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and rehydration salts, to help you manage symptoms while you recover.

For people with young children, it’s a good idea to use the downloadable NHS child health app to check their symptoms and the best treatment.

If you do need to call on the NHS for help, ask yourself which service is the most appropriate one for your symptoms, and take the best course of action if you think you have an urgent healthcare need.

Remember that GP practices now have extended opening times, with most open later in the evenings and offering weekend appointments.

And the NHS 111 service is always available should you need advice on which services to use.

This is the number you ring to access GP services out of hours too.

The urgent care centre at Wansbeck General Hospital treats all sorts of minor injuries.

Of course, if it is an emergency, ring 999.

With Christmas and New Year just around the corner, please do order any repeat prescriptions in plenty of time to make sure you’ve got the medications you need for the holiday period.

There will be pharmacies open on the bank holidays if you need over-the-counter medication urgently, but as I mentioned earlier, it’s best to be prepared by keeping a stock of commonly-used items at home.

If you do have symptoms of diarrhoea or vomiting over the winter, or at any time of the year, please do not to visit loved ones in hospital until you have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours.

These types of virus are easily spread and this helps prevent germs being passed on to patients who are already unwell and risk them becoming worse.

Washing your hands regularly with soap and water is the most effective means of stopping the spread of viruses.

You may be aware that as a foundation trust, we are accountable to the people we serve in Northumberland and North Tyneside and have greater freedoms to plan local services and respond to the needs and wishes of our communities.

We do this by inviting residents to join us as members.

Anyone can join us as a member of our trust and ensure that their area’s views are heard.

We’re always keen to encourage local people and patients who have used services to sign up and become members of our trust, and we’d like to recruit more people in the Morpeth area.

As a trust member you will:

• Be informed about our work.

• Vote for governors who help to shape our services and priorities.

• Be able to stand as a governor yourself.

• Benefit from NHS discounts.

If you’d like to become a member, all you need to do is visit www.northumbria.nhs.uk/members and complete the online application form.

Alternatively, call the foundation membership team on 0191 203 1296. We look forward to you joining us.

Before I sign off, I’d like to congratulate all of our winners in our 2018 staff awards, which recognise the outstanding contribution of staff working in hospitals and the community in delivering high quality patient care.

Given that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the NHS, the awards took on the theme of a birthday tea party, and in this landmark year for the NHS, it’s more important than ever to take time out to celebrate all that our staff have achieved over the last 12 months.

Two of the awards recognised teams — the emergency department at The Northumbria Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington and the trust-wide infection control team.

These teams were both heavily involved in our trust’s effective response to one of the worst winters on record when we were affected by outbreaks of flu and norovirus.

Let’s hope this winter is kinder to us.

However, you can rest assured that we are well prepared for whatever comes our way.

That just leaves me to wish you all a happy and healthy festive period.