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With the Met Office having issued an alert for some very cold weather over the next few days and winter now well under way local GPs are encouraging people to be aware of the dangers of cold weather.

Dr Hasan Chowhan, a GP in Colchester and chairman of NHS North East Essex CCG, said: "Lower temperatures can increase the health risk to vulnerable people including the elderly and those with a long-term health condition, so please keep take some time to check on elderly relatives and neighbours to make sure they are doing OK.”

Dr Mark Shenton, a GP in Stowmarket and chairman of NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said: "Take some simple precautions to keep healthy this winter, and don’t forget to look out for others. Cold weather always places additional pressure on already busy services so please do your bit to help the NHS."

Dr Christopher Browning, a GP in Long Melford and chairman of NHS West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “Stay alert to the fact that cold weather can cause serious illness such as strokes, heart attacks and pneumonia and can even kill, especially if you have a long-term health condition or are aged over 65.”

Get a flu vaccination - it's not too late. Everyone aged 65 and over, people with certain long-term medical conditions, young children, carers and pregnant women are entitled to a free flu vaccination. Don't underestimate just how serious flu can be. It can cause deterioration in a long-term health condition and result in an admission to hospital. Flu can cause middle ear and sinus infections in young children. Flu could damage the health of an unborn baby. If you haven't yet had a flu vaccination contact your GP practice. Many local pharmacies also offer flu vaccinations to people aged over 18 years who are in an 'at-risk' group.

Be prepared - making sure you stock up on some essentials that can help you and your family cope with common conditions such as colds, coughs, stomach upsets, flu and earache, will mean that you are better prepared. Your medicine cabinet should include:

Ask your pharmacist for advice on what you should keep at home.

Wash your hands – simple advice and by washing your hands regularly you could prevent catching or spreading a cold or norovirus, the winter vomiting bug. Make sure your children get into the habit of regular hand washing and always wash your hands after using the loo and before cooking and eating. The number of germs on your hands doubles after using the loo.

Look out for others – remember to keep an eye out for elderly relatives, neighbours and friends. Spare a few moments if you can to pop round for a chat.

Keep your home warm – your main living room should be between around 18-21C (65-70F). You could also use a hot water bottle or an electric blanket (but not both at the same time) to keep you warm while you’re in bed.

Keep active and eat well - move around at least once every hour and don’t sit down for long periods of time. Try to have hot meals and warm drinks regularly throughout the day. Food is a vital source of energy and will help to keep your body warm.

Wrap up well - wrap up well when you go out in the cold. Wear lots of thin layers - clothes made from cotton, wool and fleecy fibres are particularly good and help to maintain body heat.

Know what to do should you need help – NHS 111 is a free 24/7 urgent medical telephone advice line. Trained advisors will be able to give you advice on a health condition affecting you or your family. You can also access the service at NHS 111 Online.

Your local pharmacy - don’t forget your local pharmacist is a great source of help and advice and can advise on the best over the counter medicine for your condition. Many pharmacies are open long hours and you don't need an appointment to speak to the pharmacist. If you are feeling unwell, pop in for help and advice before making a GP appointment.

More information on Staying Well This Winter is available on the NHS website.