Winter brings with it a number of challenges for all of us, but particularly the increased risk of illness as temperatures drop.
Getting the flu can be bad enough for even the fittest of us, but for older people and those with long-term conditions in particular it can cause serious health problems.
The Chief Medical Officer warned this week that flu and complications associated with it – such as pneumonia - cause 8,000 deaths on average a year in England - around 6,000 of which are people with existing heart and lung conditions.
This is not to mention the hundreds of A&E trips, GP appointments and emergency admissions that our local NHS sees every year over winter – official figures show that flu and pneumonia account for 2.9m bed days in English hospitals.
The strain, and therefore strength, of flu changes every year, so even if you’ve had vaccinations in previous years these won’t offer protection. And if the experience in Australia and New Zealand is anything to go by, this winter could see a much stronger strain than in recent years.
Getting the flu jab is free and easy, and offers the best chance of avoiding the flu that we have – but unfortunately just 60.1% of eligible people in Cambridgeshire took up the vaccination last year, meaning 88490 missed out on that protection.
That figure includes 38688 older people living with long-term conditions, for whom getting the flu is most likely to spell a long and unwanted stay in hospital.
That’s why I’m backing the campaign by Public Health England and NHS England to encourage more people in Cambridge to get vaccinated this year.
If you’re in one of the groups who are particularly susceptible – such as pensioners and pregnant women – or the parent of a young child, go and speak to your GP or pharmacist as soon as possible to give yourself the best chance of avoiding flu this year.
More people than ever before are eligible for that free vaccination this year, including more young children and everyone who works in care homes.
To check if you or your loved ones are eligible, and for other tips on staying well this winter, head to www.nhs.uk/staywell