An adviser on health to the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has urged all those eligible to get their flu jab, as “it will save lives and beds”.
Professor Jim McManus, who is also the first Catholic President of the Guild of Health and St Raphael and Director of Public Health for Hertfordshire, warned that there is “every sign this winter is going to be much, much tougher for the NHS” for a number of reasons.
“First, the seasonal flu virus may well be much worse in the strain it places on health services this year, if the Australian winter is anything to go by, and it usually is,” Prof. McManus told The Universe.
“Many more people will be ill,” he warned. “This can be largely prevented if people get their flu jab.
“Second, the financial pressure and third the existing backlogs mean the NHS is already under severe strain,” he continued. “Finally, social care funding is at breaking point,” he added.
Prof. McManus insisted that – “as Catholics” – we all need to urge the Government to find a long-term sustainable future for the NHS and social care as a fundamental commitment to the Common Good.
However, he stressed that it wasn’t just about more money. “Caring for ourselves, caring for staff are just as important, and long-term solutions are needed,” he said.
“As Catholics we also recognise we have an obligation to care for ourselves, too. It’s part of our responsibility of good citizenship.”
Meanwhile, while this debate takes place, Prof McManus revealed a number of practical actions that Universe readers can take in order to help now.
“Everyone eligible really needs to get their flu jab. It will save lives and beds. If it’s free it’s because you need it! And NO, it DOESN’T give you flu,” he said.
Second, he urged people to “rally around” those who work in health and social care to support and care for them.
He also suggested contacting hospital reception desks or chaplaincy teams for details on volunteering to help out with patient transport at local hospitals, or helping out with social activities in care facilities.
Prof. McManus also said it was important to check on vulnerable parishioners and neighbours to make sure they’re okay, especially in bad weather.
Prof. McManus also suggests not going to GPs or hospitals unless it is essential.
“Your first stop if something isn’t serious is your pharmacist not your GP,” he explained. “If in doubt ring 111 – they’ve never let me down even when I had a serious post-cancer infection.”
Prof. McManus also revealed that asking for antibiotics, unless they are really needed, was a waste, as they won’t work for colds and flu viruses but stressed that it was of the utmost importance to looking after our own health.
His comments came amid warnings that hospitals could see the worst ever performance for A&E waiting times this winter.
The Health Foundation has predicted 735,000 patients will wait longer than four hours at hospitals in England between January and March.
Speaking in a personal capacity, Dr Philip Howard, a member of the Central Consultants Committee of the BMA, said winter bed pressures in the NHS are “multifactorial and involve seasonal variations in morbidity and organisational issues within the healthcare system”.
“The main issues relate to the number of people, especially those over the age of 75, who require admission for lung and heart problems exacerbated by cold weather or viruses,” Dr Howard told The Universe. “This reflects the increased care needs of the elderly and vulnerable.”
Dr Howard pointed out that the problems are compounded by the decline in the number of hospital beds, workforce shortages especially in emergency departments, shortfalls in community nursing and social care and the funding crisis.
• See www.nhs.uk/winterhealth