For most, the festive period is a time for taking some precious time to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends. But for those whose family may be far away or who sadly are on their own it can be a desperately lonely time. As a doctor, it is my concern that not only can this be an incredibly difficult time of year to be on your own – isolation can also put the vulnerable and the elderly at risk of harm to their health.
Each year, we run a national campaign to promote how everyone can Stay Well This Winter. This year, we have made it a key strand of that campaign to ask everyone to take a little time to look out for others, to check in on someone who may be more vulnerable as the cold weather bites and help them keep well by sharing some simple advice.
We have just filmed a video which I urge you all to watch and share – it features Susan, a fantastic lady from Oxford, aged in her 90s, who lives alone but is supported by a lovely volunteer, Ruth, who checks in on her from time to time to see that she is okay.
Susan knows how hard it is to be isolated from family and friends. It makes it difficult to do the simple tasks that we all take for granted. Most importantly, particularly for someone who may be house-bound or simply not as active as you or I, keeping warm can be a real challenge.
Getting out to the shops to purchase those essentials, let alone Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, can be hard. Similarly, remembering to renew and collect prescription medicines can be difficult, especially as GPs and pharmacists have reduced opening during the Christmas break.
Finally, knowing to seek medical advice early at the first signs of ill-health and knowing to call 111 for non-emergency advice.
All of these tasks are hard for Susan on her own. But with Ruth’s help – just popping in for a cup of tea and a natter, making sure she has all that she needs and giving support when it’s needed – Susan is able to look forward to a visit and knows that she is not as alone as she sometimes feels.
What better time than at Christmas to help beat loneliness – and the threat that it poses to the more vulnerable in our society – by checking in on someone who may need your help to stay well this winter?
Watch the film with Susan and Ruth on the NHS England YouTube channel by clicking this link. Please share on social media – you can follow @nhsenglandsouth.
For more advice on how to stay well this winter, visit the NHS Choices website. It also contains information on GP and pharmacy opening times over the Christmas period.
Nigel Acheson is the Regional Medical Director for NHS England, covering the South region.
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