As we move into the busy winter months, health and social care professionals across the system will be working together once again to deliver responsive and joined-up services throughout the season.

Building on our experience of working together last winter, staff from hospitals, GPs, social services, ambulance services, mental health services, and charities will be working as a winter team to provide safe, effective, and sustainable care for people across Oxfordshire.

Winter is a high-pressure season for health and social care services, with the colder temperatures and harsher weather conditions leading to increased demands on GPs and emergency departments as flu season begins.  This, paired with the impact of COVID-19, means that health and care team-working is especially important.

Access to the care you need

Sam Foster, Chief Nursing Officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Now more than ever, the winter team’s priority is to ensure that people who need medical treatment are able to access services to get the care they need.  We are still focussed on our ‘home first’ approach, making sure that people who really need hospital care can be seen, and people can be treated closer to home when safe and appropriate.

“COVID-19 means that this year looks very different – it’s even more important that people have a winter plan, look after themselves and stay healthy and, if they do need help, to use healthcare services in the most appropriate way.  Emergency departments are for genuinely life-threatening conditions – if you need medical help but it’s not urgent, then your local pharmacy, minor injuries unit, or GP will be best-placed to help you.

“If you are unsure where to go for help, contact NHS 111 who can provide advice and direct you to the best place for the care you need.”

Another angle the team will be focusing on is the importance of mental health over the winter.

Pete McGrane, Clinical Director at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “There is a direct link between our physical and mental health.  We know that this year has had a significant impact on people’s physical and mental well-being, and people may continue to feel the impact of this as we move into winter.

“Also, people with a long-term mental health condition, dementia, or a learning difficulty are more likely to experience poor physical health. It’s important we take a moment to support frail and vulnerable relatives, friends and neighbours and get help for our mental health – just like we would for our physical health.”

If you need mental health support or advice phone Oxford Health’s 24-7 support line.  Adults: 0800 783 0119 or 01865 904 997. Children and young people: 0800 783 0121 or 01865 904 998

People are urged to have a winter plan for themselves and their family so they know what they need to do to keep as well as possible, what they can do if they become unwell, and how they can look after more vulnerable neighbours who may not be able to look after themselves.

Plan ahead and get your flu jab

Dr Kiren Collison, Clinical Chair of the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “It is more important than ever to keep yourself well this winter.  Having a personal winter plan might include stocking up on the cold and flu medicines at home as well as thinking about other supplies that can help you manage if we have a cold snap. A big part of this is having your flu jab – this helps keep both you and those around you safe.

“This is especially important for people over 65, people with long-term health conditions like diabetes and asthma, pregnant women, people living with someone who is shielding from COVID-19, and children.  Flu can be unpleasant for most of us, but it can be much more severe in some people.”

GP practices will contact those patients eligible for the free flu jab to attend vaccination clinics which are taking place over the next few months in Oxfordshire.  A new category of 50-64 year olds has been introduced this year, but these groups will be vaccinated later in the year.

 More information on who is eligible for a free flu jab is available on the NHS website.

If people are worried about a medical concern over the winter period, they are advised to contact NHS 111 to speak to fully trained advisors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have access to relevant healthcare professionals, including nurses, emergency dentists, or GPs, depending on the situation.

An important part of the team’s plan is making sure that people are cared for outside of hospital, too.  Oxfordshire County Council, as well as the rest of the health and care team, is also focussing on the ‘Home First’ initiative, which helps patients leaving hospital to identify what support they need to regain independence and confidence.

Stephen Chandler, Director of Adult Services at Oxfordshire County Council, said: “To keep people safe and well over the winter period, it is important that we work together to provide the right support at the right time. This is a key priority for us across Oxfordshire.

“By forming a single health and care team, we are able to work collaboratively and provide the safest care for people in the county – which has never been more important than now.”

South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) is also preparing with the team for the increased demands of the winter season, continuing to ensure that resources are available when and where they need to be across the county when people need them the most.

Kerry Gregory, Clinical Operations Manager for SCAS, said: “We are anticipating high demand again this winter.
Along with our colleagues in the winter team, we are reminding people of the wide range of medical services available to them.  Minor injury units, first aid units, NHS 111 and local pharmacies are all able to help – and if people make the most of these services, that means we can get to those people who need urgent medical care.”