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NHS under greatest pressure during 'moderately' cold weather

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Community nurses should look to support vulnerable patients during periods of moderately cold – as well as freezing – temperatures, suggests latest research on healthcare provision this winter.

Public Health England has partially adapted this year’s national Cold Weather Plan to taking into account preliminary findings from UK researchers, which “indicate that the greatest total health burden occurs at relatively moderate cold temperatures”.

The plan, which urges trusts to change their own winter preparedness plans to reflect the findings, states: “Action to prevent excess winter morbidity and mortality should not be restricted to the very cold days, but should be carried out throughout the winter period.”

Increased risk becomes a factor at temperatures of about 5-8°C, depending on region. In previous years the plan has advised that certain actions should only kick in when the temperature drops below 2°C.

The study was commissioned by the Department of Health and carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Nick Mays, professor of health policy at the school’s policy innovation research unit, said: “There’s some evidence that cold, but not freezing, temperatures increase the infection risk of things like the flu virus.

“My take on all of this is that winter is the issue, not the extremes of winter,” he said.

“The key thing I think is the way that community services prepare for winter and also to do a patient medication check in the autumn,” he told Nursing Times’ sister title HSJ.

Professor Mays highlighted the increased risk of myocardial infarction and stroke.

“It doesn’t have to be anywhere near freezing for the veins in the peripheral parts of the body to start to constrict and that means, therefore, that the volume of blood that can pass through veins shrinks and the blood clotting proteins are more concentrated,” he said.

Public Health England said it had not made more specific recommendations because the study’s findings have not yet been verified.

The final version of the study is expected to be published later this month.


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