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As the cold weather and dark nights roll in, winter can have a bad effect on your health and wellbeing.

Winter can be a tough time of year for many of us and due to the extra challenges we face with COVID-19, this year it is really important that we pay close attention to our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us.

Health and care services across Somerset are here to support you to stay well this winter.

On this page we’ve shared information to help you stay well this winter.

Stay active

Stay warm
Stay informed
Stay safe
Parent zone
Stay well
Stay connected

10 tips to help you stay well this winter:

  • Know where to go if you need help and support and choose the right healthcare service for your needs
  • Look after your mental health
  • Get your flu jab
  • Get your COVID-19 vaccination or COVID-19 booster if you’re eligible
  • Stay active
  • Eat well
  • Keep your home warm
  • Beware of slips, trips and falls
  • Stay safe and follow the latest COVID-19 guidance
  • Look out for your friends, family and neighbours.

Regular exercise is important for your health and wellbeing and will help you keep well this winter. You don’t have to run a marathon, short walks can help you stay active.

Whatever the weather, we can all stay active over the winter. There are lots of great strength and flex workouts at nhs.uk to help you stay active.

Being active has a long-term positive impact on your health and immediate mental and social benefits. 

Somerset Activity and Sports Partnership (SASP) have lots of information for adults and children and young people on how you can be active.

SASP also have tips on how you can be active at home.

Age UK also offer a range of activities and exercise classes. You can find out about any classes in your local area on the Age UK website.

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It is important to keep warm in winter – both inside and outdoors. Keeping warm over the winter months can help to prevent colds, flu and more serious problems such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.

Cold weather can make some health problems worse and even lead to serious complications, especially if you are 65 or older, or if you have a long-term condition, live alone, or live with a disability or mental health condition.

Here are some tips to help you stay warm:

  • If you are going outside, make sure you dress appropriately and wear lots of layers and sensible footwear. 
  • Eat well. Food is a vital source of energy, which helps to keep your body warm. Try to make sure that you have hot meals and hot drinks regularly throughout the day.
  • Heat your home to at least 18C (65F). You might prefer your main living room to be slightly warmer.
  • Keep your bedroom window closed on winter nights – breathing cold air can be bad for your health as it increases the risk of chest infections.
  • Get financial support. There are grants, benefits and sources of advice available to make your home more energy-efficient, improve your heating or help with bills.

Somerset residents who are interested in energy efficiency and saving money on their energy bills can get free advice from the Home Energy Team at the Centre for Sustainable Energy in Bristol.

Support is also available to Somerset residents who are struggling to keep their homes warm, finding it difficult to keep on top of their bills or need advice on grants for home improvements. Phone free on 0800 082 2234.

You may be able to claim financial and practical help with heating your home. Grants available include the Winter Fuel Payment and the Cold Weather Payment.

For more information on how to reduce your bills and make your home more energy efficient, go to the government’s Simple Energy Advice website, or call the Simple Energy Advice helpline on 0800 444 202.

You can also find out about heating and housing benefits on GOV.UK.

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During the winter months our health and care services across Somerset experience high levels of demand, meaning GP surgeries, hospitals, accident and emergency, community health services, mental health services, social care and our ambulance service are all very busy. 

The ongoing pandemic has increased the demand for services even further and so choosing the most appropriate service for your needs can not only help you be seen more quickly, but can also help those with more serious illnesses or injuries get care quicker too.

For example, people with minor illnesses will be able to be seen more quickly by using their local services such as Minor Injury Units or community pharmacies.

If you’re unwell and are unsure about where to go, visit 111.nhs.uk or call 111. Please be patient and choose the right care. At this very busy time, your 111 call may take a little longer to answer than usual but staff will get to you as quickly as possible.

For ongoing or non-urgent concerns please contact your local pharmacist or GP practice.

Call 999 in a medical emergency. This is when someone is seriously ill or injured and their life is at risk.

Because of the number of people needing care, there are currently longer waits for routine appointments than usual. The NHS in Somerset is doing all it can to reduce waiting times both in General Practice and in the hospitals. 

We need your help – here’s what you can do to support your local services:

  • Keep the Emergency Department for emergencies. If your condition isn’t an emergency, choose a different service. You may have to be prepared to wait a bit longer for treatment if it isn’t urgent. Find out more about when to call 999 and when to go to A&E.
  • Use your local pharmacist for minor conditions such as insect bites, ear ache, skin rashes.
  • Keeping a well-stocked medicines cabinet helps to deal with many common illnesses and injuries that can be treated at home – talk to your pharmacist about remedies.
  • Use the HANDi paediatric app for advice on common childhood illnesses.
  • Use NHS 111 – online or by phone if you need advice or medical treatment quickly and can’t wait to see your GP. If you need to be seen by a Minor Injuries or Emergency Department they can book you in.
  • Get your COVID-19 vaccination and have both jabs if you’re eligible.
  • COVID-19 case rates in the south west are among the highest in the country, the virus is still very much here so please continue to maintain social distancing and good hygiene, especially hand hygiene, to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Meet outside where possible.
  • Families with loved ones in hospital are being asked to collect their relatives as soon as they have been told they are able to go home, as doing so means more beds are available for newer patients in urgent need of admission.
  • If you are receiving care at home that you think you no longer need, please contact your care provider or Adult Social Care so staff can review your care needs. This will support us to make sure care is allocated to help someone else to remain in their own home or leave hospital with the right support. Contact your care provider or Somerset Direct on 0300 123 2224.
  • Please be patient and be kind. Our staff are all working hard to ensure people get the right care when they need it.

To find out which service is most relevant for your needs please take a look at our choose well page and choose the right service for your health needs.

Choosing the right service will ensure you receive the best possible treatment, allowing busy services like hospital Emergency Departments (A&E) to concentrate on helping those most in need. 

Using online services

This winter, we’re asking as many people as possible to use and register for online health services.

Registering online can help save you time when ordering prescriptions or booking appointments meaning people who urgently need to contact their local practice can get through quicker.

Also, if you know a family member or neighbour who doesn’t have access to or use the internet, share local health or coronavirus guidance with them so they are up to date with the latest news.

Ways to get online with your health needs:

  • Need health advice but unsure where to go? Use NHS 111 online and get help fast. The website will be able to offer support and if appropriate, direct you to the right place for your need.
  • Did you know you can sign up to your local practice’s online services so you can easily order medication, book appointments and view test results quickly? For more information visit your practice’s website.
  • The way you access GP services has evolved throughout the coronavirus pandemic. If you need an appointment at your local practice, you may be offered a telephone call or video consultation to help protect you and staff from the virus.
  • Many local pharmacies offer online apps where you can set medication reminders and order your prescriptions electronically, speak to your local pharmacy team and see if you can go paperless.
  • The NHS App is a simple and secure way to access a range of NHS services on your smartphone, PC or tablet.
  • Not sure what to do if your child is unwell? Download the free HANDi Paediatric App and get expert advice about common childhood illnesses and how to treat them.
  • Search a range of NHS apps and online tools on the NHS app library to help manage your health and wellbeing.

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Look out for family, friends and neighbours.

By taking simple steps like helping out elderly family or neighbours, and being prepared for colder weather, we can help each other to stay safe.

If you know or support older and vulnerable people, please do all you can to help them. 

Check on older and vulnerable neighbours and relatives to make sure they:

  • are safe and well
  • are warm enough, especially at night
  • have stocks of food and medicines so they do not need to go out during very cold weather.

If you’re worried about a relative or elderly neighbour, contact your local council or call the Age UK helpline on 0800 678 1602 (8am to 7pm every day).

If you know someone who is frail, elderly or has an existing health problem and they are feeling unwell, encourage them to seek early advice; go to their local pharmacy or phone their GP practice before the issue escalates and their health deteriorates.

Help us help you and others stay well this winter.

Slips, trips and falls

The darker days, wet and slippery ground, and falling leaves during winter means slips, trips and falls are more likely.

Older people are particular at risk of having a fall during the winter months. Take extra care when out and about and avoid unnecessary outings when it is icy or snowy underfoot. Wear a pair of sturdy shoes with non-slip soles to help prevent a nasty tumble and potential injury and use a walking stick if needed to help steady yourself.

COVID-19: stay safe

Help keep well and protect others this winter by following the latest coronavirus (COVID-19) advice and guidance.

Coronavirus remains a serious health risk. You should stay cautious to help protect yourself and others.

  • Meet outside, or open windows or doors for indoor visitors
  • Take a regular lateral flow test a couple of times a week, even if you do not have symptoms as you could still infect others
  • If you think you have symptoms stay at home and arrange to take a PCR test as soon as possible
  • Wear face coverings in crowded places and on public transport
  • Check in to venues when you go out
  • Wash your hands with soap regularly, and for at least 20 seconds
  • Get vaccinated

Find out how to stay safe and help prevent the spread.

You can find full coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance and support on the GOV.UK website

You can access a range of help and support from local authorities, the NHS, charities and other organisations in Somerset. Somerset County Council have collated a list of resources and support available

If you need additional support you can contact the Somerset Coronavirus Helpline on 0300 790 6275. The helpline is open from 8am to 6pm every day.

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There are plenty of things you can do to help you stay well this winter.

COVID-19 vaccination

Help protect yourself, your friends and family by having the COVID-19 vaccination.

If you haven’t already had your covid jab you can find details of walk-in clinics and more information on the vaccine on our COVID-19 pages.

Book your COVID-19 vaccination today either online or by ringing 119.

If you’re eligible for a COVID-19 booster jab, look out for your invite to book your booster from your local NHS. Please note, you will only be eligible for your COVID-19 booster vaccine at least 6 months after your second vaccine dose.

Stay protected, the booster jab will help you stay safe from COVID-19.

Get your Flu jab

Flu is an infectious and common viral illness spread by coughs and sneezes.

For most people, flu is an unpleasant illness, but it’s not serious. If you are otherwise healthy, you will usually recover from flu within a week.

However, certain people such as the frail elderly and young children are more likely to develop potentially serious complications of flu such as bronchitis and pneumonia. These people are advised to have a flu jab each year.

The flu vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine. It’s offered every year on the NHS to help protect people at risk of getting seriously ill from flu.

This year getting the flu vaccine is important because:

  • more people are likely to get flu this winter as fewer people will have built up natural immunity to it during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • if you get flu and COVID-19 at the same time, research shows you’re more likely to be seriously ill
  • getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 will provide protection for you and those around you for both these serious illnesses.

People who are eligible for the flu vaccine this year include:

  • Are 50 and over (including those who’ll be 50 by 31 March 2022)
  • Have certain conditions
  • Are pregnant
  • Are in long-stay residential care
  • Receive a carer’s allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
  • Live with someone who is more likely to get infections (such as someone who has HIV, has had a transplant or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Frontline health or social care workers.

You can have the NHS flu vaccine at:

  • your GP surgery
  • a pharmacy offering the service
  • your midwifery service if you’re pregnant
  • a hospital appointment.

If you do not have your flu vaccine at your GP surgery, you do not have to tell the surgery. This will be done for you.

Find a pharmacy that offers the NHS flu vaccine.

Further information about the flu vaccine

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Medication

If you take regular medication, it is important to ensure you have enough in case you cannot leave your home. It is important to order enough medication to last you during the Christmas and New Year period. In the event that you do run out of prescribed medication, please contact your local pharmacist or NHS 111 who should be able to assist with an emergency supply.

Repeat prescriptions

If you receive regular or repeat prescriptions that don’t change you might be suitable for

Electronic Repeat Dispensing. This means your GP can send your regular or repeat prescriptions electronically to a pharmacy of your choice. 

GP surgeries and community pharmacies are under considerable demand at the moment, and repeat prescribing is a significant part of GPs’ and community pharmacy’s daily workload. Electronic Repeat Dispensing has been shown to save GP time spent on repeat prescriptions and to be more convenient for patients.

Find out more about electronic repeat dispensing.

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Self-care

Self-care is about looking after your own health and making the right choices about where to go for help and advice when you need it. Many common illnesses and injuries can be treated at home – talk to your pharmacist about remedies and advice on what to do.

Keep a well-stocked medical cabinet. This could include: pain killers, anti-diarrhoeal medicine, rehydration mixture, indigestion remedies, cold and flu remedies, first aid kit with bandages, plasters, antiseptic wipes and cream, eyewash, medical tape, sterile dressing and thermometer. Find more advice about what to keep in your medicine cabinet on the NHS website.

Winter brings with it a number of minor health problems that you can also deal with at home or with help from your pharmacist from colds and sore throats to painful joints and dry skin.

Cases of respiratory illness such as bronchiolitis in children are higher at the moment. Symptoms can be worrying, but check out our fact sheet to help you assess your child’s symptoms and know when to self-care and when to seek urgent help. Remember, if you’re still not sure, contact 111.nhs.uk or call 111 for clinical advice.

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Stay Mentally Well

This year has been a tough one for us all with the coronavirus pandemic and months of lockdown having had a huge impact on our mental health.

If you’re struggling you can contact Mindline emotional support and mental health helpline, open 24/7 – 01823 276 892.

The dark winter months can bring a host of mental health issues to the forefront of our minds. Be kind to yourself and make time for things that make you happy. From a simple cuppa, reading a book, to a warm bath, take moments to have some calm time and a break away from the stresses of everyday life.

Christmas can be one of the most challenging times for people who may have lost loved ones or be struggling at home. It’s really important we take time to ask one another ‘are you ok?’ and encourage people to talk.

How we feel can change from day to day and sometimes from hour to hour. If you’re struggling we’ve got some tips to support your mental wellbeing.

There are many people of all ages living with mental health problems and if you or someone you care about is struggling, try just taking one of the NHS five steps to wellbeing to improve your mental health:

  • Connect with other people – good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. They can help you to build a sense of belonging, provide an opportunity to share positive experiences and give emotional support.
  • Be physically active – Keeping active is a great way to improve your mental wellbeing, but this doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym. Take a walk, have a kickabout in the garden or just dance around the living room to your favourite music.
  • Learn new skills – research shows that learning new skills can also improve your mental wellbeing boosting your self-confidence and giving you a sense of purpose.
  • Give to others – acts of giving and kindness can help improve your mental wellbeing by creating positive feelings and help you connect with other people.
  • Pay attention to the present moment – Take some time to be more aware of the present moment, including your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.

Everyone’s mental wellbeing changes throughout their life, but it’s important never to just put up with poor mental health. If you’re concerned about how you are feeling, please speak to your GP or visit https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/.

There are many local and online mental health services which can provide support and guidance at times when you or someone you know might need help with their mental health. Find out what’s available in Somerset by visiting our mental health services webpage.

Helpful resources:

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Eat well

Food gives you energy, which helps to keep you warm. Try to have regular hot meals and drinks throughout the day.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet with the right types of foods is an important part of maintaining good health and can help you feel your best.

Change4Life has loads of healthy eating tips and recipes, and fun ways to exercise. Change4Life is here to help you and your kids eat well and move more.

Find out more about eating well on the NHS website.

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It’s important during the cold winter months connect with other people. Good relationships are important for your mental wellbeing. They can help you to build a sense of belonging, provide an opportunity to share positive experiences and give emotional support.

Check in on neighbours, family and friends to see how they are.

Why not try taking up a new hobby as a way to meet new people.

There are a range of support groups and local community groups. Local community centres and community magazines will often have details of groups and activities running in your local area.

Another great way to stay connected is to get out and volunteer in your local community. It’s also a good way to make a difference in the community – especially during difficult times like these. There are lots of different opportunities available and you’ll benefit too.

Discover a volunteering opportunity near you https://www.sparkachange.org.uk/

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