Responding to the challenge of cold weather and winter

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A person photographed from behind wearing a yellow winter coat, with the hood up and a brown backpack on their back. They are walking on a snow-covered street.

 

The Cold Weather Plan for England (CWP) outlines actions and advice for reducing preventable cold weather-related deaths and ill-health. This blog explores how the plan meets the challenge posed by cold weather by planning for and responding to cold temperatures.

The challenge of cold weather and winter

Every year as temperatures drop over the winter period, cold weather affects health and wellbeing.

Physical hazards such as snow and ice increase the likelihood of falls and injuries. Exposure to cold temperatures can increase blood pressure, suppress the immune system and make fighting infection more difficult. These factors add up to cold-related deaths being the most significant weather-related source of mortality in England.

The Cold Weather Plan for England seeks to reduce the tens of thousands of excess winter deaths by:

  • providing information on the national cold weather alert system with advance warning and advice over the winter
  • raising awareness and engaging with the community to ensure they know what to do to prepare for and respond to cold weather
  • working with partners long-term to plan and commission for cold weather
  • undertaking near real-time surveillance of cold weather events

Protecting the most vulnerable

Thousands of people die each year from conditions linked to exposure to cold weather. The Cold Weather Plan aims to prevent the major avoidable effects on health during cold weather periods by raising awareness and sharing guidance to protect the most vulnerable, who include:

  • older people, especially those over 65 years old and those who are frail or socially isolated
  • People with pre-existing chronic medical conditions
  • children under 5
  • people with cognitive impairment, mental health conditions or learning difficulties
  • people living in deprived circumstances such as experiencing fuel poverty
  • people experiencing homelessness or rough sleeping
  • pregnant women

Whilst extremely low temperatures can cause significant harm to health, even temperatures that appear to be mild (4°C–8°C) can have negative consequences for health, particularly for the most vulnerable who are unsurprisingly the hardest hit during winter.

Paying attention to cold weather is essential. Whilst it is a significant health risk for many people, simple preventative actions often could avoid many deaths, illnesses, and injuries associated with the cold.

Keeping well, staying warm 

The Cold Weather Plan for England includes advice and guidance on keeping well and staying warm during cold weather, including:

  • heating the home, or the parts of it you’re using, to above 18°C
  • staying warm by dressing in multiple thin layers,
  • having regular hot meals and drinks
  • moving around as this keeps the blood flowing around the body
  • planning ahead and keep in touch with the weather forecasts and cold weather alerts

It is also imperative to look out for others, especially the most vulnerable. Everyone likely knows someone in one of these groups, and you can help out by checking in. We also know that cold weather can also mean that some people are isolated, so it may be that a chat and a friendly face is all they need.

You can read the full plan here and find additional COVID-19 resources here.