WITH flu season starting and Covid cases rising, Oxfordshire’s health and social care providers across the system are working together and urging people to create their own winter plan.

Building on experience of working together last winter, staff from hospitals, GPs, social services, ambulance services, mental health services, and charities will be acting as one team to care for people across the county.

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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 a joined-up approach is seen to be more important than before.

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Sam Foster

Sam Foster, chief nursing officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the John Radcliffe, 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.”

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She said coronavirus meant this year looks ‘very different’, adding: “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.”

The head nurse stressed A&E was for ‘genuinely life-threatening conditions’ and other medical help can be found at pharmacies, minor injuries units, or GP surgeries.

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People are being 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.

Dr Kiren Collison, clinical chair of the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Having a personal winter plan might include stocking up on the cold and flu medicines in your medicine cabinet 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."

She said this was especially important for people over 65, those with long-term health conditions like diabetes and asthma, pregnant women, people living with someone who is shielding from Covid-19, and children. 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. 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.

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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.”

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."

South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) are also preparing with the team for the increased demands of the winter season.

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."