People living alone more at risk in freezing weather, chief nurse says

Freezing winter weather poses a lethal risk for people who live alone, says England's chief nursing officer Jane Cummings, who is encouraging people to keep an eye on elderly relatives and neighbours

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Freezing winter weather poses a lethal risk for vulnerable people who are alone or isolated, England's chief nursing officer Jane Cummings says.

Professor Cummings said lives could be saved by people checking in on the vulnerable, including older relatives.

NHS England warned that the combination of isolation and cold weather had a 'real impact' on already stretched health services.

The warning follows the coldest night in the UK this year, when temperatures plunged to minus 13C in Shropshire on Tuesday night.

Life-threatening impact

Professor Cummings said: 'Loneliness has a devastating and life-threatening impact on people of all ages.

'For vulnerable groups, social isolation combined with the health dangers of colder weather, is a lethal combination.

'NHS staff see firsthand the consequences of loneliness, from dealing with life-threatening and serious illness to offering a lifeline to those simply wanting a see a friendly face.

'We can all take steps to alleviate loneliness by looking out for family, friends and neighbours. These simple acts of companionship could be life-saving.'

Risk of premature death

The health service said evidence showed feeling isolated increased the risk of premature death by around a third, with heart attacks increasing after a cold snap and accounting for 40% of excess winter deaths.

Research for the NHS Stay Well this Winter campaign found 56% of people aged between 18 and 74 would like to visit older relatives, friends and neighbours more often and 42% said they plan to make it a New Year's resolution.

Two in five people aged 70 to 80 surveyed said it helped to have someone assist them with everyday tasks, the weekly shop, picking up medicines and getting to the doctor.

Social epidemic

MPs Seema Kennedy and Rachel Reeves, who head the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, set up to continue the work of the murdered Labour MP, said: 'The evidence of the impact of loneliness on people's health and well-being is now overwhelming and we are delighted that NHS England are today supporting the need for all of us to look at what we can do to minimise it.

'Loneliness is no longer just a personal misfortune but has grown into a social epidemic.

'If we can tackle it effectively we can make Britain not just a happier but also a healthier country in which to live.'

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