The NHS is there for you — Dr Zoe urges you to access the services you need

WINTER is coming and that means one thing for the NHS – mounting pressure.

Every year it happens, hospital beds fill up and ambulances are seen queueing outside A&E departments.


A bad flu season and plummeting temperatures are usually to blame, whipping up a “perfect storm”. That’s because when the mercury dips below 5C we see an increase in heart attacks, strokes and pneumonia.

Every year is the “worst ever” for the health service, but this year could be a really, really bad one, as we contend with Covid-19 too. One saving grace is that thanks to more hand washing and keeping our distance we might see lower flu rates – the virus won’t be happy with how we’re all behaving right now.

But, when it comes to Covid, the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) infection survey shows daily cases have risen by 62 per cent in a week, with 27,900 people infected each day in the first week of October.

Admissions to hospitals are increasing too, with some NHS trusts facing the same number of Covid patients as they saw at the peak. The one hope is that we won’t see deaths reach the same levels as in April.

At the start of the pandemic the message was really clear: we were told to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. We all understood what that meant.

But now, as the Government tries to walk the tightrope of getting the economy back on track and keeping Covid infections down as much as possible, life has become more confusing. Rather than one blanket lockdown we’ve got three different tiers.

And where once we stayed at home to protect the NHS, now we’re asking people to use it. One serious impact of coronavirus is that some people are now reluctant to use NHS services, worrying that they are being a burden or fearing they will catch Covid.

The knock-on effect has been scary – cancer screenings missed, late diagnoses and people avoiding getting emergency help for strokes and heart attacks.

DIAGNOSIS

That’s why this winter the NHS Help Us, Help You initiative is urging you to access the services you need, when you need them. There are three clear messages:

  • Speak to your GP if you are worried about a symptom that could be cancer.
  • If you’re pregnant, attend your check-ups and seek advice if you’re worried about your baby.
  • If you have an appointment at a hospital or elsewhere, stick to it.

See it as your duty to see your GP when you need them. If you find a lump and are worried it could be cancer, the quicker you see your doctor the better. Forget fears about putting more pressure on the NHS or bothering your GP, and book an appointment.

If you leave that lump to fester for months, then the chances are your cancer will be diagnosed at a later stage, when it has spread and is harder to treat.

It means that where once an operation may have been all you needed to get the all-clear, you now face chemo, radiotherapy and months if not years of treatment to manage your cancer.

The earlier you catch cancer the more likely you are to survive. Early diagnosis really saves lives and it can help to ease pressure on the NHS too.

There are other things you can do too – think about the different ways you can access the health service. Can your local pharmacist help? What about NHS 111? Is it your GP who’s best placed to answer your concerns or are you facing an emergency?

Then there are the things you can do to reduce your risk of catching Covid, or spreading it to others. As a general rule I hate slogans, but the Hands, Face, Space one that Boris Johnson is plugging makes sense.

Washing your hands regularly is still the single most important thing we can do to. Secondly, we can all limit the contact we have with other people by maintaining social distancing, and reducing the number of people we see. Then, where we can’t stay two metres away from other people, we can wear a mask.

So while you might be confused about lockdown tiers and rules, rest assured that when it comes to the NHS it’s really simple. It’s open, use it. If you need help don’t delay.

If it’s a minor illness see your pharmacist or dial 111. If it’s something more worrying, book to see your GP and in an emergency dial 999.

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