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Visiting the doctor may not be the best idea this winter

November 2018

Nurse giving old woman injection
Doing what we can to stay healthy this winter

As we get older, winter can appear to be longer and more difficult. The cold dark nights, the cost of heating, the dull miserable daylight all begins to wear us down. Add to that the fact we are more likely to get sick in winter than in summer, and it really can be a difficult time.

But sometimes, when we feel we have a problem and take ourselves off to see our doctor or even the local A&E department, would we in fact have been better in treating the problem ourselves?

This is the subject of a new campaign just launched by NHS England and Public Health England. It is called:

Help us, Help You

The aim is to help everyone stay well over the winter months and the campaign highlights the actions people can take to manage their own health and also get the best out of the NHS.

The basis of the campaign is that there could be some actions and alternatives people should sometimes look at before going to the doctor or A&E.  A few of the key outlines of the new campaign include:

  • Flu jab. The best way to help avoid flu is to have a flu jab. This year the flu programme is bigger than ever with 24 million people in England alone being offered the flu jab. Interestingly older people are being offered a more effective vaccine as part of the programme which is providing 8.5 million doses.
  • 111. For urgent but non life threatening medical conditions, the best number to call is 111. Here a specially trained advisor will tell you the best course of action.
  • Community pharmacies. At the first signs of winter illness or for minor health conditions that do not require a GP appointment, you should visit your local pharmacist who is a qualified healthcare professional. Here you will receive advice and often medication that can help.
  • Extended GP hours. Also be aware that instead of rushing off to A&E for problems that occur outsid the normal daytime hours, today extended GP hours are now available across the country. Appointments with a GP, nurse or other healthcare professional are now available in the evenings and at weekends…either at your local practice or at another nearby NHS service.

The NHS say that new research from a recent survey has revealed that 8 out of 10 people believe they are responsible for keeping themselves healthy.  But sometimes we might think we know too much! The research also showed that 8 in 10 agree that too many people visit A&E when they don’t need to, or go to see their GP when they could get the help they needed from a pharmacist.

Around 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E are for self-treatable conditions. While A&E are clearly there for those who need it in an emergency, the NHS campaign reports that alternative services can be better depending on the medical needs.

They say that if other NHS services were used correctly across England, it is estimated that nearly four in ten visits to A&E could be avoided.

Dr Dawn Harper involved in the campaign, says that to ensure  every patient who needs it gets the best care possible, it’s important that the NHS and the public understand each other, and that’s what the  ‘Help Us, Help You’ campaign is all about.

“It’s our job to make sure the public are properly informed about the full range of services available to them, and it’s the public’s job to make good use of those services when needed,” she said. “Our hope is that this winter, we can help improve the speed and availability of A&E care for those who truly need it, together.”

To find out more about how you can help the NHS help you this winter, visit

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