Simple steps to help you stay well through winter

Mums and babies at a breastfeeding support group at Alnwick children's centre, one of many held across Northumberland.
Mums and babies at a breastfeeding support group at Alnwick children's centre, one of many held across Northumberland.

Welcome to this month’s column bringing you up-to-date with health services in Alnwick.

With winter almost upon us, I thought I’d use this opportunity to give some advice about how to stay well, reflect on our Join Our Journey roadshows and celebrate the ‘golden’ support available to mums in the area to help them to breastfeed.

Our 'join our journey' when it stopped off in Alnwick.

Our 'join our journey' when it stopped off in Alnwick.

Although winter, meteorologically speaking, doesn’t officially start until December 1, we’ve already had some cold weather, with more on the way, I’m sure.

As a trust, we’re supporting the national Stay Well This Winter campaign and encouraging people to make sure they’re in the best possible position to stay well for longer over the winter months.

Winter can be hard on people’s health so it pays to be prepared.

Prevention is always more comfortable than cure so if you start to feel you’re coming down with a winter illness, get down to your local pharmacy before it becomes more serious.

While you’re there, make sure you speak to staff about medicines you should have at home to help get you and your family through the winter season.

It’s a good idea to make sure you have a well-stocked medicine cabinet and, ideally, a first aid kit.

This need not be fancy or expensive, just the basic items, such as pain relief like aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen. However, please remember that this will be dependent on previous advice given to you regarding any long-term conditions.

You should also have antihistamines, oral rehydration salts, plasters, bandages and antiseptic, which will stand you and your family in good stead over winter and throughout the year.

If you experience problems that are urgent and cannot be looked after by self-care at home or visiting a pharmacy or GP, we’d urge you to ring NHS 111 for advice on which service to access.

The service is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and an advisor will direct you to the most appropriate place for the severity of your condition.

Ringing NHS 111 first will help NHS services to be used wisely this winter, ensuring emergency services at our Northumbria hospital (Cramlington) are kept free for those who need them most.

Please remember that experienced nurses at our minor injuries unit at Alnwick Infirmary are on hand to treat a wide range of minor injuries or illnesses that are not serious or life-threatening.

It’s worth bearing in mind that cold is at least a partial cause of many illnesses. If you can, heat your home to at least 18C (65F), although if you are anything like me you might prefer your living room to be slightly warmer.

A properly heated home can help to prevent colds, flu and even more serious health problems, such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.

Keep your bedroom window closed on winter nights – breathing cold air can be bad for your health as it increases the risk of chest infections.

Keep active when you’re indoors and try not to sit still for more than an hour or so. Wear several layers of light clothes. They trap warm air better than one bulky layer.

During winter there do tend to be more bugs around, but please remember you must not come into hospital if you have symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting as these can easily spread to patients. Please wait until you’re symptom-free for 48 hours.

Equally, if you have a friend or loved one in hospital with these symptoms, you must not visit them. I know it sounds harsh, but I promise, it really is the best thing to do for them and for yourself.

We know how important it is for patients who are staying in hospital to hear from their loved ones so if you are ill and unable to visit in person, please ring the ward and the team can arrange for you to speak to your friend or relative.

I hope you will find this advice useful to not only help you stay well this winter, but also play your part in helping the NHS run as efficiently as it can over the next few months.

And a final plea from me, make sure you arrange to collect any prescriptions well in advance – there is always a mad rush just before Christmas.

Over the last couple of weeks, you may have seen our Join Our Journey roadshow out and about. In this area, we stopped off in Alnwick, Rothbury, Belford, Wooler, Bamburgh and Seahouses, and we were pleased that local people came along to share their views about our ever-changing NHS. Thank you.

Since 1948, the NHS has been constantly evolving to meet the country’s changing needs and expectations, from a growing older population to new treatments and technologies.

Here at Northumbria, we have a strong track record of being at the forefront of innovations in the NHS.

In many ways, we are already embracing many of the challenges faced by today’s NHS. We are harnessing new technologies and treatments, and leading the way nationally for integrating health and social care, with revolutionary outcomes for patients.

But there’s more we can do to get fit for the future.

Don’t worry if you missed our roadshows, you can still give us your views online at

Before I sign off, I wanted to draw attention to the great strides we’ve made in this area with breastfeeding.

It’s great news that more and more mums, almost three-quarters, in North Northumberland are choosing to breastfeed their babies and take advantage of the many health benefits this brings to mum and baby.

This is down to the expert advice and support delivered in the community by our health visitors, nursery nurses and breastfeeding support workers, the latter provide intensive support to women from just after they have given birth until, at least, the baby is six weeks old.

These are complemented by our breastfeeding support volunteers, who provide support over the telephone and help to run groups in the community, such as the one at Alnwick children’s centre. Social media support has also proved extremely popular, with around 500 members sharing their experiences of, and top tips for, breastfeeding.

This month 14 mums in the North of the county have completed their training, bringing the overall total in the area to 42, ready and available now to support mums in a friendly, informal way.

We are delighted that this support outside of the hospital has led to our trust becoming the first in the country to be awarded the Unicef Baby Friendly Gold Award, the highest level available, which is excellent.

If you, or anyone you know in the area, would like support on breastfeeding, please contact Carolynn Reavley, infant feeding co-ordinator, on 07812 395015.

I know it’s only November, however as this is my last Alnwick matron column until the New Year, I’d like to wish you a happy and healthy festive season.