Health and wellbeing blog
In this regular blog, our GP Chair Dr Joanne Watt shares her top tips and advice for staying well and getting the most from health services. Please click on the links below to read her latest articles.
Northamptonshire General Practices currently offer about 17,000 appointments each day and there will be times that the demand for appointments may sometimes be more than the capacity available, we know this can be frustrating. Most health professionals would like to spend more time with each patient, and need to balance this with how many appointments they can offer to their patients each day. Northamptonshire GPs and General Practice teams have been working hard for their patients throughout the Covid pandemic offering vaccinations, screening, long term conditions checks, providing medication prescriptions and supporting patients who have needed to shield as well as those who reside in care homes. During the pandemic we know that many people have struggled with mental health problems as well as Covid and LongCovid, and practices have also supported the people who are on waiting lists for appointments or procedures.
Telephone, video and online appointments became the first point of contact with health care professionals in all practices in the UK in July 2020; this instruction from the government was put in place to help to keep vulnerable patients safe and to reduce the risk of Covid infection happening in GP waiting rooms. Many practices adapted their premises with screens and one way systems to further improve safety, as well as their staff wearing PPE for face to face appointments. GP practices are also required to offer online consultations as well as face to face appointments when they are needed. If your initial appointment is remote using phone or video, a face to face appointment can be arranged by the clinician if needed. You still need to wear a face covering when entering any healthcare settings to protect other patients as well to protect the staff caring for you, Covid has not yet gone away and some of the people attending the surgery may be vulnerable. Consider doing a lateral flow test before going into a GP surgery building to reduce the risk of Covid even more.
You may be offered a consultation with a range of professionals when you contact your GP practice. The GP partners have asked the reception team to ask a range of questions to work out who the best team-member is to help you, and to help to prioritise your need. Your GP has been there throughout the pandemic to support all of the team members as well as to see or speak to those patients who need them. GP surgeries have a range of professionals working as part of the team in addition to the GPs, Advanced Nurse Practitioners, Nurses and Health Care Assistants that have worked at practices for many years, not all surgeries will have all of these team members. Sometimes the person you need to help you may not be based in your practice. There may be other team members that the receptionist can direct to you to such as Coaches, Care Coordinators and trainee health professionals once they know what problem is.
Here are some more tips to support and empower you to get the most out of appointments:
1. Please be aware that appointments may be offered by telephone, video, or online. If your consultation is remote try to find somewhere quiet and private with not too many distractions and use headphones if possible. Make sure you keep your phone with you, and notify the health professional if you will not be available at a particular time. Make sure your phone is fully charged and plug in your device if needed, and check that your wi-fi is working if that is required and consider using hand free. Ask someone if you need help to set up the technology
2. Consider keeping any hospital or GP letters with you, have a pen and paper with you to write notes if you are worried that you will forget important facts. Take the time to write down what you want to get from the consultation, the symptoms and how serious you think they are, the questions you want answered, and the concerns on your mind. At the end of the call repeat what has been agreed if the clinician does not. Let the clinician know if you feel they have not answered your questions.
3. Find out how long the appointment is and consider discussing the most important thing that you are worried about first if you have more than one problem, so that you do not run out of time to discuss it. You will usually be asked how long a problem has been present so you may wish to think about the answer to this question in advance.
4. Consider asking someone to be with you for support, they can join you remotely if you have a video call if they cannot be with you in person at the time of the consultation. Please notify the reception team if you need an interpreter. Sometimes interpretation will be via a telephone translation service. Thank you for being polite and kind to our receptionists and the whole General Practice team, they having been working hard throughout Covid and are trying to do their best to help you. Thank you to our patients and our public for supporting your local GP surgeries.
Key to the General Practice team
Social prescribing link workers (also called social prescribers or link workers)
We have now been dealing with the Covid pandemic for over a year, living through waves of infection, and have had times when we have felt optimistic and times when we have felt less so. Some of us have lost loved ones during this time, and we have all been affected in some way. As we go into the second summer of this pandemic it is still really important that we do everything we can to protect each other and respect that the freedoms offered to some may result in additional restrictions and worries for others.
Many of our family and friends have long term conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to Covid, and it is helpful to make sure that we support them to be vaccinated with both doses if they have not already done this. Some of our community will need a Covid vaccine booster in the autumn too. Some people may not have a physical health condition that makes them vulnerable but may be feeling understandably worried about Covid infection for other reasons, including caring about vulnerable family and friends that they have contact with.
You may wish to make sure that people close to you, who are worried about Covid infection, are comfortable with the changes in Covid restrictions that you might want to make. Perhaps you could bear this in mind and be more cautious when they are around. This could include offering to meet them outdoors, making sure that everyone does a lateral flow test just before meeting up and making sure that everyone washes their hands. You may wish to do regular lateral flow tests to protect those around you, and these are available from 119 or lots of other local venues. If you are feeling unwell, please stay away and self-isolate from other people and make sure that you request a PCR covid test by calling 119. This is the best way to keep others safe.
When we are in a public place we do not always know who needs additional protection from Covid, and who may be feeling uncomfortable about some of the changes. People who have problems with their immune system or conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure do not look any different and you would not know if you were near a person who is vulnerable in a public place. Some people might be caring for a vulnerable family member or friend and want to take extra precautions to protect the person they care for.
Wearing a face covering in crowded indoor public places, on public transport or where there is poor ventilation shows your consideration for the people around you who may be feeling anxious about their risk of Covid infection. Many shops will also wish to protect their customers and staff by continuing to mandate face coverings, hand sanitising and distancing because they respect their customers and staff. It is also particularly important to continue to wear a face covering in all healthcare settings, since there will be a higher number of vulnerable people in those environments. We all want to minimise the risk to those patients as well as the staff who continue to care for them. This means that many of the aspects of healthcare that have kept people safe so far will continue to be used, including wearing face coverings, and remote and telephone consultations. When you are asked to wear a face covering or to sanitise your hands in a particular environment doing this is your opportunity to show your respect for others and your willingness to protect them from Covid, since you may not know that you have it.
If you are feeling ready to reconnect with activities but are not sure what is going on locally or what you might fancy doing, then you can speak to a Social Prescribing Link Worker (Social Prescriber) who will be attached to your registered GP surgery. They will be able to talk to you about how to make the most of the local opportunities and be able to put you in touch with activities that you will enjoy and where you can connect with like-minded people. They can also help you to make some positive changes in your life including getting more active, dealing with unhelpful habits and supporting you to make future plans.
We all have different attitudes to risk, and it is important to recognise this in conversations with friends and family when you are planning activities and events, so that everyone feels comfortable and can enjoy their social contact. This means that continuing some of the adaptations that we have become used to over the last year may make an event feel more comfortable for others. It is important not to pressurise people into reducing their restrictions if they do not feel it is safe to do so. Communicating about our feelings is very important, and showing a willingness to adapt and take a considerate approach is usually much appreciated by those worried about infection. We all want to protect our community, and by being flexible and understanding these are some of the ways you can show those around you that you respect their feelings and concerns.
1. Please take the time to look after your body and mind by making sure that you get enough sleep, eat a balanced and varied diet, and take the time to exercise now that we have more options available to us. Exercise on Referral is back and will be able to help you with weight and mood as well as building confidence, and your GP surgery will be able to arrange this for you if needed. Think about how much alcohol you are drinking and get it back to below 14 units a week if you have been drinking more. Consider stopping smoking or switching to e-cigarettes and the smoking cessation services will be able to help you with this.
2. Please remember that Community Pharmacies can provide you with useful information and medication without a prescription. Simple painkillers and hay-fever treatments are among the wide range of products that are available.
3. Please remember to order your regular medications from your GP surgery in plenty of time and ideally at least 3 working days before you run out. If you are going on holiday please request them early, and order extra if necessary and do not leave it to the last minute.
4. Monday is usually the busiest day of the week in most GP surgeries, if you do not need to contact them on a Monday consider making contact on another day of the week when you may find it easier to get through.
5. GP surgeries are now doing reviews of long-term health conditions and other check-ups, some of these were postponed due to the peaks in Covid infection and are important to catch up on. If your GP surgery contacts you to have a routine check please make sure you know what you need to do before the check such as blood tests, bringing a urine sample or keeping a diary. Please attend immunisation appointments when you are invited. If you have not had a dental check or an optician check-up recently this is a good time to make an appointment.
6. When you contact your GP surgery please give information to the receptionist so that they can help to make sure you get the right help, the GPs have asked them to do this and they can be trusted keep your information confidential. Please be kind and polite to the receptionist who will help to get you to the right care more quickly.
7. Many GP practices now have First Contact Physiotherapists who you can talk to directly if you have a new problem with your muscles, joints or back. There are Practice Pharmacists who you can help you with medication concerns and queries and can review your medication with you. There are also Social Prescribing Link Workers who can help to connect you with things going on in our area and increase your social contact. Your GP receptionist will be able to book you an appointment to speak to them if this is appropriate for you.
8. When you are talking to a health professional please mention the most important problem first otherwise you may run out of time to talk about the thing that really matters to you. Taking the time to talk about an important problem is usually more important than an examination when trying to decide what needs to be done next. If you have a list of items please let them know since you may need to find another time to be able to discuss other issues.
9. When a health professional orders a test the results go back to the team that requested them, this means that you should contact the hospital team directly via the departmental secretary if you are waiting for a result from a test they requested or awaiting a follow up appointment. If you do not get the result you need it is worth remembering that all hospital and community trusts in England have a Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) that you can contact directly via switchboard to get the information you need about their services.
10. There are a number of services you can use for Self-referral without speaking to a health professional first. These include NHS 111 (by phone and online at 111.nhs.uk) and The Mental Health Hub (0800 448 0828) and you can look at the MiDOS site (portal.midosweb.co.uk) to find out about more services. Your Covid vaccination proof is now available on the NHS App or by calling 119. There will also be more information about local services on your GP practice website
What is in the vaccine?
A vaccine contains a small part of the coating of the virus but cannot cause infection. A vaccine stimulates your immune system to protect you against the virus, exactly like it would if you were exposed to the disease. After getting vaccinated, you develop protection against the disease a few weeks later, without having to get the disease first. There are different licensed vaccines and they all give very good protection. The vaccine is given as injection in your upper arm and you may have an uncomfortable arm for a few days after the injection.
Since the first COVID-19 vaccination in the county was administered on 8 December 2020, more than 250,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered to local people across Northamptonshire. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, and it gives you the best protection against coronavirus. The NHS is offering the COVID-19 vaccine to those most at risk from coronavirus, starting with the most clinically vulnerable. You should have received an invitation for the vaccination if you are:
• Aged 50 and over
• Clinically extremely vulnerable (You will have received a shielding letter from the NHS)
• Someone who lives or works in a care home
• A health or social care worker
• Someone who has a condition that puts you at higher risk (This is also called clinically vulnerable, and you will be contacted if you have a condition that makes you eligible)
• Someone who has a learning disability
• The main carer for someone at high risk from coronavirus, and are registered with the council or your GP surgery
People in these groups have the choice about where they wish to be vaccinated so if you have received a letter or text you can choose to be vaccinated at a local GP site, the vaccination centre at Moulton Park or one of the pharmacy sites. You may need to wait until the next vaccine delivery date to book your appointment. Please only book a vaccination at one site, and cancel the appointment if you cannot attend.
You will need to have a second COVID-19 vaccine at the same site as your first one, this will usually be 12 weeks later. Please make sure you also attend for your second vaccination to make sure you get maximum protection against coronavirus. After your vaccination you still need to observe social distancing and the other national guidelines. If you fall into one of the groups listed above but have not yet received a letter or text or communication from your GP practice, please visit www.nhs.uk/covidvaccination any time or call 119, free of charge between 7am and 11pm, seven days a week to book an appointment at the vaccination centre or a pharmacy site only. If you would prefer to be vaccinated at a local GP practice, please call your own GP practice directly to make an appointment.
Coughs, colds and sore throats are very common in young children and are to be expected at this time of year. Many of the young children in the UK did not have as many infections last year due to Covid restrictions and have started to experience winter infections such as bronchiolitis a little earlier this year. Many of the things we have been doing over the last 20 months to prevent Covid will also protect us against other viral infections during this coming winter. This means all of us continuing to wash our hands regularly, using a tissue to catch coughs or sneezes and washing your hands afterwards, and staying away from others if you or your household are feeling unwell.
For the majority of children, these illnesses will not be serious and they will soon recover following rest and plenty of fluids. Most children will not need antibiotics for these conditions. Make sure that you have a thermometer in your home for checking for fever and that it is suitable for the ages of the children living with you, a pharmacist can help you to decide which thermometer to buy. Please remember to buy some simple remedies from the pharmacy such as liquid paracetamol to have at home to treat these common illnesses.
Fever associated with common, simple viral infections such as a cold typically rises and falls over a total of 12-48 hours. Children often complain of feeling cold at the start of a fever. They may feel shivery, although they will feel hot and dry to the touch. Later they often say they feel hot, and will be sweaty and flushed. Make sure that you also remember to arrange a Covid PCR test (by calling 119) for your child if they are unwell with a fever or any respiratory symptoms, a lateral flow test is not accurate enough to test for Covid in people who have symptoms.
Children under two are at risk of more severe infections from common seasonal illnesses including bronchiolitis. Fever in babies aged 3-6 months has a higher chance of being serious, and you should seek medical advice if the temperature is 39°C or more in this age-group. Fever in a baby aged less than 3 months is unusual and is more worrying, you should seek medical advice if the temperature is 38°C or more in this age-group.
Other signs that may suggest more severe infection in a child of any age and that indicate that you need to seek more advice for an infection include:
- a child who is pale or who has mottled skin
- a child who does not respond normally or who cannot wake up
- a child who has difficulty breathing especially if the skin is being sucked in between each rib on every breath or if they have grunting when breathing
- a child who is unable to feed normally due to breathing difficulties or coughing
- a child who is not passing the normal amount of urine
- a child who has a dry mouth, tongue or lips
- a child who has a rash that doesn’t fade if you put pressure on it or who has neck stiffness (call 999 if you notice this since the child may have meningitis)
It is not necessary to go to A&E departments if children have simple coughs, sore throats and colds. For very young children and babies, you can call the health visitors at the 0-19 Hub on 0800 170 7055 (option 4), Monday to Friday between 8am and 5pm or the Weekend Health Visitor helpline between 8.30am and 12.30pm on 07598 235094 if you have any concerns about feeding and minor illnesses. You can also seek advice using NHS 111, talk to a Pharmacist, or contact your GP surgery. If your child needs to be examined the health professional might direct you to attend a site that is not your own GP surgery, especially if it is overnight or at the weekend.
The NHS App and website (www.nhs.uk) also have lots of useful information about other common childhood conditions and advice on when to call for additional support.