Article by Max Ballard

Despite the seemingly constant scrutiny facing hospitals and GP practices, most people in the UK would agree that the NHS is a great asset. One of the main issues affecting the NHS today is that its resources are stretched. Already a problem throughout the year, it becomes even more serious during the winter months.

Is the NHS prepared for this winter?

Conflicting reports regarding the readiness of the National Health Service have been circulating, with a government report saying they’re well prepared for an increase in hospital admissions during the winter directly at odds with a Telegraph article, which claims they’re already struggling to meet demand.

Officials have been advising the public on how they can help reduce the immense pressure reportedly being placed on health services.

One way we can all help is to go to the pharmacy for medical advice, which is more common in other parts of Europe. For example, in France there are a great number of pharmacies – some open 24 hours – and they are often the first port of call when people have a medical issue.

Sir Bruce Keogh, managing director of NHS England told The Guardian: “Our GPs, frankly, during the winter feel really under strain with people coming in with coughs and colds. A lot of that strain could be relieved if people use pharmacies more.”

The article also stated that GPs made around 360 million consultations last year, which is 40 million more than in 2009.

Reducing the need to visit your doctor

Of course if you’re ill then you may need to make an appointment with your doctor, but there are steps we can all take to try and avoid common winter maladies like colds and flu. The NHS recommends regularly cleaning surfaces that you use often, like keyboards, door handles and mobile phones. This will help prevent the spread of germs and lower the risk of catching a cold.

The flu vaccine is also available for free to anyone aged 65 or over, pregnant women and people with certain long-term health conditions or weakened immune systems. Click here for more information on the flu vaccine.

Patients with asthma are more likely to visit the doctor during the winter months because the condition is exasperated by both the cold weather and other illnesses that are common during winter, like chesty coughs and flu. The experts advise taking your asthma medication everywhere and reacting as soon as you experience symptoms, in order to prevent serious asthma attacks. Read more about how to cope with asthma during winter here.

If more people go to the pharmacy for advice and less people suffer from winter-related illnesses, the pressure on our doctors and nurses will be reduced. You might also want to take out a health insurance plan if you’re worried about rising medical costs – click here for more information about the health plans offered by Saga.


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