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Keeping well this winter

10 December 2011

The Met Office is working in partnership with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency to provide cold weather alerts.

There's a strong link between weather and health, especially when it's cold. Older people are especially vulnerable in cold weather, so this year we're working closely with Age UK, providing the charity with Cold Weather Alerts so it can help keep people well this winter as part of its 'Spread the Warmth' campaign.

Cold weather alerts

A Cold Weather Health Watch system operates in England from 1 November to 31 March every year, in association with the Department of Health. Met Office alerts are sent to NHS Trusts in England and are also available on our website and via other media.

We developed the alerts with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency to pinpoint when winter weather will impact on people's health. Alerts are issued if mean temperatures are below 2 °C for 48 hours or longer, if there is heavy snow or widespread ice.

Reducing hospital admissions

People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) have a significantly increased risk of ill-health during cold weather and high levels of circulating respiratory infections. Our forecast alert service, Healthy Outlook® helps people with COPD stay well and out of hospital. Healthy Outlook® provides a phone call, warning people when the weather or high levels of circulating respiratory infections are likely to put their health at risk.

By reducing hospital admissions Healthy Outlook® saves lives and money. It is commissioned by Primary Care Trusts and Health boards across the UK with case studies showing a consistent 20% reduction in hospital admissions.

  • For more information about how cold weather can affect your health please visit  www.nhs.uk

Level 1 - Green Winter preparedness and long-term planning

This is the minimum state of vigilance during winter. Social and healthcare services ensure that there is ongoing awareness and preparedness.

Level 2 - Yellow Alert and readiness

Triggered as soon as the risk is 60% or above for any of the three thresholds to be breached. This is an important stage for social and healthcare services which work to ensure readiness and swift action to reduce harm from a potential period of cold weather.

Level 3 - Amber Cold weather action

Triggered when weather breaches any of the three thresholds (mean temperatures below 2 °C for 48 hours or longer, heavy snow or widespread ice). This stage requires social and healthcare services to target specific actions at high-risk groups.

Level 4 - Red Emergency

Reached when weather is so severe and or prolonged that its effects extend outside the health and social care system. This warning is issued on advice from, or in collaboration with, our Government partners. At this level, illness and death can occur among the fit and healthy, not just high-risk groups and co-ordination across multiple agencies is needed.

The cold is more dangerous than you think...

  • For every 1 °C decrease in average winter temperature there are approximately 8,000 extra deaths.
  • There are 27,000 extra deaths each year as a result of cold weather.
  • Last year was the coldest December on record. In some areas temperatures fell as low as -10 °C and -20 °C overnight.
  • However Healthy Outlook provides support for thousands of people with COPD and reduced hospital admissions by 20% last winter.

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In brief