For most of us the snow means snow men, snow ball fights and good times. However, St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust clinicians are urging people to consider the well being of others for whom the snow means an increased risk of ill health, and how to help people keep warm and keep well.

Cold homes have a significant impact on people’s health. One of the best ways of keeping yourself well during winter is to stay warm. Keeping warm can help prevent colds, flu or more serious health conditions like heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.

Pensioners, people with long term chronic health conditions like asthma and kidney disease, and people on low incomes who cannot afford to heat their homes properly are the most at risk from cold weather related illnesses.

Alison Robertson, chief nurse,says that there are simple steps that everybody can take to protect themselves and their friends and family from the cold weather:

“It is really important to try and keep yourself warm at home. Try to keep as active in your home as possible, and drawing your curtains when it gets dark and keep your doors closed will help to block out draughts.

“Have regular hot drinks and eat at least one hot meal a day if possible. Eating regularly helps keep energy levels up during winter.

“Wrap up warm and wear shoes with a good grip if you need to go outside on cold days. Wearing several light layers of warm clothes is better than one chunky layer. If possible, stay inside during a cold period if you have heart or respiratory problems.”

Alison also stresses the importance of getting vaccinated against the flu:

“Flu is a highly infectious illness that can spread rapidly and can be very dangerous for older people, pregnant women and people with long term health conditions. The jab takes five minutes and will protect you and your family from the flu. Speak to your GP or pharmacist about getting vaccinated.”

It’s not just in the house that people need to take care though. With the snow comes ice, which means more people slip and hurt themselves than at other times of the year.

Dr Phil Moss, clinical director for A&E, has some advice for people when they are out and about to help them avoid an unwanted trip to A&E:

“Icy pavements and roads can be very slippery. Take extra care if you go out and wear boots or shoes with good grip on the soles. Putting grit or cat litter on paths and driveways can lessen the risk of slipping as you leave the house.

“It is important to bear in mind that black ice on pavements or roads might not be easy to spot, and that compacted snow may turn to ice and become slippery. If you have to travel by car, wherever possible use roads that have been gritted. Icy roads can be dangerous so drivers should take extra care.

Phil is also urging people to make sure they choose the most appropriate health service for their condition this winter:

“A&E gets extremely busy during the winter, and a lot of the people who come could get quicker and more appropriate treatment closer to home.

“People should remember that A&E is only for emergencies and life threatening conditions. Your local pharmacist can also treat you for a wide range of conditions like coughs and colds, fever, nausea and sickness and skin irritations without the need for a prescription. Your GP surgery will provide services during the day and outside of normal hours.

“If you are suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting you should stay away from hospital and call NHS Direct as you probably have norovirus, better known as winter vomiting disease. The symptoms only last a couple of days but are very contagious and spread quickly. Norovirus is potentially dangerous to people with serious health conditions who are already in hospital.

“If you need advice or reassurance or need to know which NHS services to use you can contact NHS Direct, a 24 hours-a-day nurse advice and health information service, on 0845 4647 or visit

Notes to editors

People showing the following symptoms should not come into hospital:

  • Nausea (feeling sick)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach pains or cramps
  • Headaches
  • Fever and tiredness

For further advice, people suffering with these symptoms are urged to call their GP or NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 ( Symptoms should pass within 60 hours. The advice of doctor’s is to rest, drink plenty of fluids and let the illness runs its own course.

Norovirus is the most common cause of infectious gastroenteritis in England and Wales. Although relatively mild, Norovirus illness can occur at any age because immunity to it is not long-lasting. The syndrome is commonly referred to as “winter vomiting disease” due to its seasonality and typical symptoms. Outbreaks of Norovirus gastroenteritis are common in semi-closed environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools and cruise ships.

People with diarrhoea and vomiting should seek medical advice if their symptoms last more than 60 hours, or if they have a pre-existing medical condition.

Older people and children under 12 months old may also need to seek medical advice via their GP.

More information about winter vomiting and diarrhoea illnesses can be found on the Health Protection Agency website:

For more information and for high resolution photography, please contact the Communications Unit on 020 8725 5151 or email: Outside working hours, please page us by calling 0844 822 2888, leaving a short message and contact details for pager SG548. High res photos available on request.