The drier, colder and frosty weather currently affecting the UK has given some significant relief to those who have been hit by the heavy rain and floods over the last week or so. However, cold weather presents its own problems to the public too, not just from frost, ice and snow, but from its impact upon our health.
The link between the onset of cold weather and its effects on health is documented extensively in research journals, in the UK. Older people are particularly at risk as they do not feel the cold until their body temperature falls. People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) also have a significantly increased risk of ill-health and hospitalisation during periods of cold weather and high levels of circulating respiratory infections. So many people are affected by the wider impacts of cold weather.
From 1 November 2012, the Met Office launched its Healthy Outlook® service, which is a telehealth alert service, available to patients through participating GP practices. Upon registering, patients receive a pack full of useful tips and contact information to keep them well during the winter months. Each registered patient will also receive a recorded voice call when conditions are forecast that are expected to increase the risk of symptoms becoming worse. The alert aims to give COPD patients sufficient advance warning to avoid the cold weather and keep well. The service aims to minimise the likelihood of a COPD-related exacerbation for patients and the consequential hospital admittance.
Katie Russell, Business Health Manager at the Met Office, said: “Even short periods of extreme cold temperature can cause serious illness for COPD patients. The Met Office has created Healthy Outlook® to help people with COPD take control of their own health. We monitor environmental conditions and warn people when their health is likely to be affected, giving them the opportunity to take action to stay well.”
As well as our standard service, we are also trialling Healthy Outlook® in selected high street retail pharmacies across the UK. This trial of the service will allow people to still take advantage of Healthy Outlook® even if their primary care trust (PCT) has not signed up. Healthy Outlook® is also available for the first time, online, through an e-pharmacy, giving further reach and support to those suffering from COPD.
Jane Devenish, Clinical Services Pharmacist at The Co-operative Pharmacy, said: “Offering Healthy Outlook® online means those who may be unable to leave the house can have access to this simple, yet effective service to help them prepare for periods when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and so they can reduce the risk of their condition flaring up.”
Forecasters at the Met Office are predicting more unsettled weather during next week but it looks like it will remain on the cold side, so it is important to stay up to date with the latest forecasts and warnings.