Health check: winter wellness

Two women stood in front of a brick wall with an Islington Age UK sign, one looking and pointing at a piece of paper, the other facing her

When you visit your GP, you might also be able to get extra non-medical help and support. We speak to Olivia, social prescribing link worker, to find out how she helps people to do just that – and how we can all stay well during winter

Tell me about your work. What does a social prescriber do?

We are based in GP surgeries to help people with any day-to-day issues or concerns. That could be money worries, managing at home, getting out-and-about or finding social groups. Many GPs report that they spend a lot of time dealing with housing issues, debt, stress, loneliness, and physical inactivity. That’s where we come in.

We talk to people about where they can find information and services that can help with managing specific conditions. This is the sort of thing that a GP might not have time to talk about, but often people are not aware of what’s available. We can refer people to hundreds of different services, including community centres for social activities, food banks, financial support, and even mental health services like Islington Mind, iCope and the Stress Project.

What are some of the biggest challenges people face over winter?

Covid-19 is still a threat and we should all take precautions to reduce the risk, especially those who are more vulnerable. Similarly with flu – it’s not just unpleasant, it can also develop into something more serious, such as pneumonia. It’s so important to get Covid-19 and flu vaccines if you are eligible. Older people, people with certain health conditions and carers can contact their GP, a pharmacist or call 119 for an appointment. We can give them a helping hand to book one and work out how to get there.

Food prices and home heating costs are still high, too, and at this time of year, loneliness and isolation can be crippling. If you are affected by these issues, please reach out for help. From applying for benefits and grants, to food banks and community activities, there is so much support available if you ask for it.

How important is it that people can stay warm at home during the winter?

Cold weather can be particularly dangerous if you have breathing problems, reduced mobility, a low immune system or a heart condition. A drop in temperature can also affect our body’s ability in fighting off viruses and infections, so to keep well, you have to keep warm.

As we get older, our bodies respond differently to the cold, which can leave us more vulnerable to health problems. But with a little preparation, you can stay healthy, safe and comfortable at home this winter. For example, it helps to check your boiler and block draughts ahead of cold weather. You should also wear layers and keep moving when it gets cold. Ideally you should make sure the temperature in your home is at least 18°C.

What advice do you give to people who are struggling to keep their heating on at a safe level because of expensive energy bills?

Age UK Islington can provide guidance about how to maximise the money you have coming in and to make sure you’re receiving any discounts and energy grants that you’re entitled to.

Many older people do not apply for pension credit, as sometimes people think it’s not worth it. If you do qualify, it can also open-up many other benefits, so it’s definitely worth doing. If you are having problems paying your energy bill or topping up your pre-payment meter, contact your energy supplier and Age UK Islington for support should you need it. It’s important that you do this as soon as you start to get in trouble.

Islington Council also has services that can help, including its SHINE energy advice team and the income maximisation team (IMAX).

Do you have any tips to help people look after their mental health during winter?

The winter months can be difficult, so make sure you’re looking after your mind just as you do your body. It can help to build socialising into your day, even in small ways. Try to get out of the house every day, too, even just for a short walk.

Age UK Islington offers a range of regular social events in different community venues. We can help you to find a social group that’s right for you and how to get there.

More information and advice on how you can make sure you stay well this winter

To contact Age UK Islington, call on 020 7281 6018, email or visit the website

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