Health sector urges families to get prepared for winter

15 May 2024

With the chill of winter starting to bite, health authorities are encouraging New Zealanders to prepare early for the colder months, so they stay healthy and well and avoid placing extra pressure on health services during the worst of the cold and flu season.

Dr Richard Sullivan, Chief Clinical Officer, Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora says the whole system is ready to respond to the usual surge in demand that comes in the winter months, but people can help by taking action now, like getting vaccinated, preparing their homes and having a plan if they do become unwell.  

There is often an increase in hospital admissions for respiratory infections and other illnesses in winter, and they spread easily as people spend more time indoors.

Dr Sullivan says being prepared can help prevent many of these winter ailments and reduce some of the impact on the health system.
“There are some really easy things we can do to ensure ourselves and our loved ones stay well over winter. Check your children’s immunisations are up to date so we can reduce the spread of serious diseases; encourage older or unwell whānau to get a flu vaccination; get your prescriptions early if you have conditions that worsen over winter and ensure you have a plan should you get sick and need more medical support.”

Dr Sullivan says the system is ready when that extra support is needed. 

“Winter is something we prepare for every year as a health system. We know it will be busier than usual and if people need us, we are ready to respond as are our colleagues right across the sector."

Local pharmacists are some of the health professionals gearing up for winter. They are a great first port of call if you start to feel unwell and need some advice. 

Pharmacists can provide advice on a wide range of ailments, including cold and flu symptoms, many offer phone and in-person consultations, and some deliver vaccinations including flu and COVID-19.  They also work closely with GPs to ensure repeat prescriptions are available.

For those with pre-existing health issues which tend to worsen over winter or people needing more complex medical support, reaching out to your GP or family doctor is a critical part of winter preparedness, says Dr Sarah Clarke, Health NZ’s Clinical Director for Primary and Community Care.

“If you have conditions like asthma, COPD or other chronic diseases, make sure you make a plan with your GP practice for if you get sick and, most importantly, ensure you have enough medication to last you through the colder months.”

Someone who can’t access a GP or doesn’t have one can talk to a Healthline nurse or paramedic for free anytime by calling 0800 611 116. This winter, Healthline is reminding people of the extended support available.

“Our call volumes do increase during winter so if someone doesn’t need help or advice straight away, we have a ‘call back’ option. People can register on our website and one of the Healthline team will call them back,” says Dr Ruth Large, Healthline’s Chief Clinical Officer.  

“As part of being able to provide advice and information over the phone, our clinicians can also ask callers to share video and images to help support the advice,” says Dr Large.

If you or a loved one does become dangerously unwell over winter, do not delay, call 111 for an ambulance or go to your nearest hospital ED or emergency clinic. 

Dr Damian Tomic, Hato Hone St John Deputy Chief Executive Clinical Services, says, to help manage the increased demand that’s expected over winter, HHSJ has developed a range of initiatives to treat patients in their home and utilise appropriate community pathways, and also direct the transport and flow of patients into emergency departments safely and effectively.

“We remain focused on improving our clinical capabilities and how we integrate with the wider health sector to ensure we can be there for all New Zealanders when they need us most,” Dr Tomic says.

“I sincerely want to thank the many people who work across the health sector who are committed to providing safe and high-quality care for all New Zealanders,” Dr Sullivan added.

Last updated: Wednesday, May 15, 2024

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