In conversation: Dr Oluwajana

A local GP shares her advice on staying well this winter

Winter is a time when many of us suffer with coughs and colds, lack of vitamin D and low mood. With the added concern of Covid-19, it’s all the more important we do what we can to stay safe and well. Local GP Dr Folusha Oluwajana shares her advice on how to do so

Tell me about your background. How long have you been a GP?
I was born in the north – close to Sheffield – to Nigerian parents, but did my medical training in north London. I have been a GP in Islington for five years.

What drew you to being a GP?
Being able to build relationships with patients and the whole idea of care over time. I get to know my patients and their families, which is rewarding. Working in Islington, I care for people from diverse backgrounds, with lots of different health conditions. I like the variety.

Now that winter is here, what sorts of general health issues are you expecting to see?
Coughs, colds, flu, respiratory illnesses, especially in children and older people. We get a lot of older adults coming in with joint problems as well. We’ll also see other general conditions, especially among vulnerable people who can’t get out and feel a bit isolated at home. It’s good to keep an eye on these people if you know any.

Is flu as much of a concern as Covid-19?
We are always worried about flu in the winter, and especially this year.  We think we’ll see more people with flu, because last year everyone was in lockdown so they weren’t exposed to it. This means people’s immunity is not as good as usual. The increased risk of having Covid-19 and flu together is very serious.  Everyone over 50, people with health conditions, pregnant women and others at increased risk can get free NHS flu jabs from their GP or at community pharmacies. Check online, with your local community pharmacy or GP surgery to see if it’s recommended for you to get a jab.

How can we protect ourselves from Covid-19 and flu?
General good hygiene and making sure there is good ventilation. Wear a mask, particularly when you’re in crowded places, and cover your face when you cough or sneeze. Throw away any tissues and wash your hands straight away. And, of course, getting a flu or Covid jab will really boost your immunity and reduce your chance of illness. If you don’t feel well and have Covid symptoms, take a test as soon as possible and follow NHS advice around isolation.

Is it safe to get the flu jab and Covid vaccine at the same time?
Yes, definitely. We have large research studies showing that it is safe to have the two together, and both the flu and Covid-19 vaccinations are effective whether given at the same time or given separately.

I’ve had two Covid vaccines already. Do I need a booster?
If you’re eligible, it’s really important that you do, yes, as protection can decrease over time. You’ll be offered either the Pfizer or Modern vaccine. For the latest guidance, check online or pop in to a clinic to speak to someone.

Any other general winter wellbeing pointers?
There are lots of things people can do to improve their health. A nutritious diet with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit helps support the immune system. Taking vitamin D due to the lack of sunshine over the winter is also recommended. Of course, exercising regularly is advised – every minute counts, but the more active you are, the better – and keeping warm can help prevent cold, flu, heart problems and depression. Try to sleep well, too.

You can also look at reducing how much you drink and if you smoke, get help to quit. If you drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, it can have serious health implications. Reducing it can have a really positive impact on how you feel. Quitting smoking is hard, but there are lots of good services that can really help. More than 300,000 people gave up smoking during Covid and Islington has an excellent stop smoking service called Breathe.

Often people’s mental health takes a hit during winter. Is that your experience as a GP?
Yes, winter is a time when you can experience changes to your mental wellbeing. Bad weather means people are often more isolated as they can’t get out, and there is less sunlight. Although the festive season can bring joy to many, for others it is lonely. Make use of your social network or reach out to people if you don’t have one: Age UK, Mind, iCope all offer social support and you can also speak to your GP.

While scientists are doing their bit to discover more about new variant Omicron, the Covid-19 vaccine remains the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, it’s never too late. You can pop into a vaccine site for advice and information with no obligation to get a jab. As well as giving first and second jabs, they are currently giving boosters to eligible residents whose second jab was six months ago, but the council expects this to be expanded for more people in the coming days and weeks. Watch this space!

The NHS is putting plans in place following recent changes to booster eligibility. While they do, they ask that you please wait for a text from your GP, who’ll be in touch when it’s your turn to book your booster. There is more about clinics near you and eligibility on the Covid-19 vaccinations webpage.

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