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Prepare for winter and support your ambulance service

As clocks turn back this weekend, (Sunday 25 October), and evenings draw in, South East Coast Ambulance Service, (SECAmb), is asking the public for its support by taking some simple steps to prepare for winter.

Winter is always a busy time for the ambulance service but the additional pressures associated with responding to patients during the COVID-19 pandemic mean the coming months will prove especially challenging.

SECAmb has created a checklist to assist people in preparing for the colder months and in turn help the service. By following the simple advice, which includes checking use-by dates of household medicines and restocking where necessary, checking on repeat prescriptions, booking a flu vaccination and keeping an eye on vulnerable people, the public can reduce the pressure placed upon the Trust and wider NHS.

Everyone is also urged to only call 999 in the event of a life-threatening or serious emergency and make use of alternatives, including calling NHS 111 or seeking advice online at the NHS 111 website.

Winter brings additional challenges including the potential for severe weather and peaks in demand at particular times including Christmas and New Year.

In December 2019, staff in the Trust’s Emergency Operations Centres handled more than 90,000 calls – close to 3,000 each day. At particularly busy times the operations centres can receive in the region of 180 calls an hour. With the Trust’s NHS 111 service also expected to face increased demand over winter, the public are also urged to make use of all alternatives including speaking to a GP or pharmacist for advice.

SECAmb Executive Director or Operations Joe Garcia said: “With COVID-19, in addition to our usual demand, this year has brought with it a unique set of challenges, the like of which we have never experienced before. We know that the next few months and winter will also be extremely challenging. This is why we really need the public’s help to ensure our service is available for those who really need us.

“We’re asking everyone to just take a few precautionary steps to keep themselves, their families and friends safe this winter. In addition, we need everyone to follow the latest government COVID-19 advice to help stop the spread of the virus.

“I also want to take this opportunity to thank every member of SECAmb staff across our 999 and 111 services, all our support staff as well as our volunteers across the communities we serve. These experiences have created a really close knit team and I know that everyone will continue to rise to the challenges which will undoubtedly arise over the coming months and do everything they can to ensure our patients get the help they need.”

SECAmb winter check list

  • Check your home medicines cabinet – is everything in date? Restock with essentials including cold remedies, pain killers, indigestion tablets and diarrhoea and constipation remedies
  • Keep up to date with any repeat prescriptions you or your family or friends need
  • If you or someone you look after is in an at-risk group – don’t forget to book a flu vaccination
  • Look out for any vulnerable family or friends – is there anything you can do to help them? Are there any hazards in their homes? Do their slippers need replacing? We attend falls to older and vulnerable people all year round
  • Wear appropriate shoes when outside especially during icy weather. We typically see an increase in slips and trips during colder spells
  • When was the last time your vehicle was serviced? If your car is safer, so are you
  • Carry some useful items in your vehicles such as a blanket and a spade for colder and possible snowy weather
  • Wear bright colours at night. Can you be clearly seen as a pedestrian or cyclist? If walking at dusk or at night use a torch
  • Heat homes to at least 18C (65F). You might prefer your main living room to be slightly warmer
  • 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. If outside in the cold, cover your nose and mouth – especially if you have a long-term health condition which might be exacerbated by the cold air
  • Keep active when you’re indoors. 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
  • You should only call 999 in the event of a life-threatening or serious emergency
  • People who are not facing a serious emergency should make alternative arrangements such as using NHS 111 or seeking alternative advice from a GP or pharmacist so we can focus on those who need us most.

Further information on how to protect yourself and others this winter can be found online.

When to call 999:

If you think a patient is suffering from one of the following you must dial 999 for an ambulance:

  • Heart attack (e.g. chest pain for more than 15 minutes)
  • Sudden unexplained shortness of breath
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Unconsciousness (even if the patient has regained consciousness)
  • Traumatic back/spinal/neck pain

You should also call for an ambulance if:

  • You think the patient’s illness or injury is life-threatening
  • You think the illness or injury may become worse, or even life-threatening on the way to the hospital
  • Moving the patient/s without skilled people could cause further injury
  • The patient needs the skills or equipment of the ambulance service and its personnel

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