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Cold weather planning 

Public Health England has recently published a Cold Weather Plan, giving advice to help prevent the major avoidable effects on health during periods of cold weather in England, writes Roger Gomm.

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On average, there are about 25,000 excess winter deaths in England each year (Vaclav Volrab | 123rf)

Although winter weather and snow can be fun for some, these weather conditions are also associated with an increase in illness and injuries. Cold weather increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, lung illnesses, flu and other diseases. People slip and fall in the snow or ice, sometimes suffering serious injuries. Some groups, such as older people, very young children, and people with serious medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to the effects of cold weather. On average, there are around 25,000 excess winter deaths each year in England.

The Cold Weather Plan for England is a framework intended to protect the population from harm to health from cold weather. It aims to prevent the major avoidable effects on health during periods of cold weather in England by alerting people to the negative health effects of cold weather, and enabling them to prepare and respond appropriately.

It recommends a series of steps to reduce the risks to health from cold weather for:

  • The National Health Service, local authorities, social care, and other public agencies
  • Professionals working with people at risk
  • Individuals, local communities and voluntary groups

This year’s plan continues to build on the experience of developing and improving the ability of the health and social care sector and its partners to deal with significant periods of cold weather.

The cold weather alert service comprises five levels (Levels 0-4), from year-round planning for cold weather, through winter and severe cold weather action, to a major national emergency. Each alert level aims to trigger a series of appropriate actions, which are detailed in this plan. Detailed tables are available in the main body of the plan, followed by key public health messages to protect health in cold weather.

The plan is a good practice guide and the actions denoted within it are illustrative. It is a collaborative plan supported by PHE, NHS England, the Local Government Association, the Met Office and the Department of Health to protect and promote the health of the population of England.

There are five key messages that are recommended to all local areas, especially in light of any recent structural changes:

  1. All local organisations should consider this document and satisfy themselves that the suggested actions and Cold Weather Alerts are understood across the system, and that local plans are adapted as appropriate to the local context.
  2. NHS and local authority commissioners should satisfy themselves that the distribution of Cold Weather Alerts will reach those that need to take action. 
  3. NHS and local authorities should satisfy themselves that providers and stakeholders will take appropriate action according to the Cold Weather Alert level in place and their professional judgements.
  4. Opportunities should be taken for closer partnership working with the voluntary and community sector to help reduce vulnerability and to support the planning and response to cold weather.
  5. Long-term planning and commissioning to reduce cold-related harm both within and outside the home is considered core business by health and wellbeing boards and should be included in joint strategic needs assessments and joint health and wellbeing strategies.

This is a good reference document for all involved in emergency planning. It is available here

Roger Gomm QPM is Advisor, Trainer, Consultant, Associate Lecturer, Cabinet Office Emergency Planning College and a Member of CRJ’s Editorial Advisory Panel 

Roger Gomm, 19/11/2016
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