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I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes

As the cold weather sets in, most of us go in search of our gloves and fluffy socks to try and keep our extremities warm.

But feeling the cold in your fingers or toes could mean more than a change in the seasons, so it’s important to know when it could be sign of a more serious health condition.

Cold hands and feet
Raynaud's phenomenon is a common condition which affects more than 10,000 people in the UK. It makes your fingers and toes change colour and become very painful in cold weather. Fingers can go white, then blue, then red, and throb and tingle. It's a sign of poor circulation in the small blood vessels of the hands and feet.

Most people can manage the condition themselves and don’t require medication, and there’s plenty you can do to help if you do have the condition. Caffeine and smoking can both worsen symptoms so, if you suffer from Raynaud’s, you should avoid these. And you should always wear warm gloves, socks and shoes when going out in cold weather.

Avoiding winter falls

With the icy surfaces, bad weather and increased hours of darkness, any of us could take a tumble in winter. Older people are particularly vulnerable as they’re more likely to experience poor balance and vision, muscle weakness or long-term health conditions. Even simple tasks like taking out the rubbish pose a risk when driveways and paths freeze over.

Older people are also more likely to break bones if they take a fall. And that can result in more long-term problems like feelings of withdrawal, damaged confidence and a loss of independence. But there are some simple steps [no pun intended!] you can take to avoid nasty falls this winter.

1. Treat surfaces: Spread sand or salt on icy surfaces, like footpaths, driveways and steps. When the weather’s fine, clear surfaces of mud, which gets very slippery when it’s wet or icy.

2. Think about your footwear: If the weather’s cold or wet, choose flat shoes with slip-resistant sole and a good tread to help you grip those dodgy pathways.

3. Take care walking: Always walk carefully, and avoid sudden changes in direction. Concentrate on where you’re walking and try to anticipate any hazards, like ice patches ahead. Also, try not to carry things that obstruct your view and upset your balance, such as heavy shopping bags.

And finally, think about whether you actually need to go outside. It usually makes sense to put an activity off while the weather’s particularly bad.

Keeping warm in winter

When it comes to winter illnesses, we tend to think mainly of coughs, colds and flu. And while those bugs thrive during the winter months, the cold can also lead to more serious health problems.

These include high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, respiratory disease and pneumonia… and they particularly apply to older people. That’s why it’s important to understand the best ways to keep warm – inside and out – when the temperatures plummet.

For instance, the ideal temperature for your main living room is around 70°F [21°C], and the rest of your house 64°F [18°C]. If you’re sitting down, lay a blanket over your legs, and wear warm slippers on your feet as the coolest air is closest to the floor. That said, you should also try and move around as much as possible. Not only will it generate body heat, but it’s also good for your muscles and stops you stiffening up.

It’s important to eat plenty, and at least one hot meal a day, when the temperature falls. You should also consume lots of hot drinks. When you go to bed, wear thermal underwear and plenty of layers – a hat’s a good idea as you lose most heat through your head. Also, make sure windows are closed and curtains fully drawn.

If you need to venture out, keep your hands, head and neck covered, and also wrap a scarf around your face as it helps to breathe warmer air.

Coping with Norovirus

Norovirus is the most common stomach bug in the UK. The ‘winter vomiting’ bug, as it’s also known, causes nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, watery diarrhoea, raised temperature and aching limbs.

It also spreads incredibly quickly, so avoid public places if you’ve been struck down with symptoms. It’s particularly important to steer clear of GP surgeries, hospitals and care homes to protect already vulnerable patients from the virus.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for Norovirus, so it’s simply a case of letting it run its course [symptoms usually pass within 48 hours].

But if you or your child do experience sudden diarrhoea and vomiting, taking the following action can ease symptoms:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to replace the fluids lost from vomiting and diarrhoea – pharmacies supply special rehydration drinks made from sachets. Babies should continue to feed as normal
  • Take paracetamol for any fever or aches and pains
  • Get plenty of rest
  • If you feel like eating, plain foods such as soup, rice, pasta and bread are best

While there’s no specific treatment for Norovirus, babies and young children are more at risk of dehydration. So, if you’re concerned or need more advice, you should get in touch with your GP or call NHS 111.

Cornwall Health chosen to deliver OOH contract

We are delighted to announce that NHS Kernow has chosen Cornwall Health to deliver the county’s GP out-of-hours [OOH] service.

Following a competitive open tender process, NHS Kernow chose the consortium, Cornwall Health – led by Devon Doctors, with Kernow Health – to provide GP OOH services from June 1, 2015, when the present provider, Serco, finishes its contract for a two-and-a-half-year period.

Kernow Health is a Community Interest Company owned by the GP practices of Cornwall; Devon Doctors Ltd is the GP-led social enterprise which for the past 18 years has provided OOH care across the border in Devon.

“We believe we are uniquely equipped to cater for the county’s OOH requirements and delighted that the commissioners, NHS Kernow, have recognised this,” said medical director Mike Ellis, himself a Penryn GP.

“One of the biggest problems facing OOH providers up and down the country is recruiting GPs to work in the service and, as we know all too well, this has been a particular problem here in Cornwall.

“However, choosing a provider in which Cornwall’s GP’s have a major stake and, with that in mind, are committed to supporting should go a long way towards mitigating against that.

“Clearly, there is still much work to be done before any contracts can be signed but we are thrilled that NHS Kernow has recognised our bid for this tender offers a wonderful opportunity to deliver the safe and sustainable OOH system the people of Cornwall demand and deserve.

Devon Doctors’ chairman Dr Bruce Hughes added: “We know from our experience in Devon how vital it is to have local clinicians on board and wouldn’t have entertained the idea of being involved in a bid for this tender without the support of Cornish GPs.

“With the backing those GPs and the expertise we have gleaned from delivering one of the country’s most-acclaimed OOH services, over a period of almost 20 years, it is my belief that the people of Cornwall can look forward to a much more integrated service, which will not only meet the needs of patients but, at the same time, provide continuity of care.”

Media contact: Damien Mills
damienmills@nhs.net
01392 823156