Press Release

Health advice for the public during current cold spell

The Department of Health and Children and the HSE today reminded people to be extra vigilant during the current cold spell and to check on vulnerable people who could be at risk. Cold weather can be a problem for anyone, especially older people, children, people with a disability and those with long-term illness.

The majority of health services around the country are operating as normal despite the adverse weather conditions. Notwithstanding the challenges faced, particularly by community based health services in some of the worst affected areas, services are being provided by the HSE with the support of staff and other agencies.

The risk of slips and falls on icy footpaths is likely to continue in the days ahead. Ice and snow is likely to lead to an increase in the number of people presenting with sprains and fractures as a result of slips and falls on icy roads and footpaths. The HSE is advising the public to reduce the risk by wearing non-slip shoes or boots, walking slowly and keeping your hands out of your pockets to help protect you in the case of a slip or fall.

The HSE is reminding people that the elderly and vulnerable may need additional support during this adverse weather. People should pay a visit to elderly neighbours to ensure that they have adequate food, heating and prescription medicines. The elderly can be particularly prone to hypothermia and pneumonia when temperatures dip so ensuring they have enough heat and hot food and regular hot drinks is particularly important to their wellbeing at this time.

The HSE is also asking people to please contact their hospital Out Patient Department if they are unable to attend an out patient appointment due to road conditions. Having advance notice that a patient is unable to attend helps the hospital staff plan accordingly to ensure that services can be provided to other patients. A list of contact information for hospitals around the country is available on www.hse.ie.

Dr Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health and Children said: “It is important that we all take the recommended precautions during this severe cold weather. Check up on friends, relatives and neighbours who may be more vulnerable to cold weather”.

The HSE website and information line has advice on keeping warm and well during the cold conditions. Information leaflets on ‘Slips, Trips and Falls’ and ‘Keep Warm, Keep Well This Winter’ are available to download on www.hse.ie or from the HSE’s information line, 1850 24 1850. Contact details for urgent and emergency care services including out of hours services are also available on the HSE website and from the HSE Infoline. Further information is also available at www.wellandwarm.ie. An information booklet which will gives advice, information and support schemes to help keep warm and well this winter can be downloaded from this site.

HSE Advice to the Public

  • Wear well-fitting shoes with non-slip soles if you have to go out but try to limit walking during the current cold weather. Boots with rubber soles and solid ankle support are essential to prevent slips and falls on the ice.
  • Keep your hands out of your pockets when out walking.
  • If you have a fall, even a minor one, make sure you visit your doctor for a check up.
  • Check in on elderly neighbours. Call in regularly on elderly friends, neighbours and relatives to see if they need help staying warm, have enough food, heat and prescription medications. Help older people to stay warm by ensuring that they are wearing layers of clothes, eating regular hot meals, drinking plenty of fluids.
  • Food is fuel – eating well will help keep you warm.
  • Clear the ice from your footpath and around your house and assist less capable neighbours in doing the same.
  • Keep active by walking around the house regularly.
  • Wear several layers of light clothes instead of one thick layer. Wear clothes made from wool, cotton or fleecy synthetic fibres.
  • Keep your main living room at around 18 – 21oC (64 -70oF), and the rest of the house at least 16oC (61oF). If you cannot heat all the rooms you use, keep the living room warm throughout the day (21º C if active, 24º C if inactive).
  • Close the curtains in the evening and heat your bedroom before going to bed and make sure the room is warm before you get up in the morning.

Treating strains and sprains

  • The initial treatment for both injuries is the same:
  • Rest the injured part
  • Apply ice or a cold pad to the injured area
  • Comfortably support the injury using a bandage or soft padding
  • Elevate the injured part

If you suspect a broken bone

  • Support the limb
  • Leave the casualty in the position found. Secure and support the injured part. You can use rolled up blankets, cushions, clothes or whatever you have handy.
  • Assess the severity of the injury and decide how to get the injured person to hospital. For example if they have an arm injury, you may be able to drive them to the nearest Emergency Department or Minor Injury Unit. If you suspect a broken leg or a spine or neck injury call 999.
  • Treat for shock if required. Look for signs of shock including pale, cold and clammy skin, rapid then weak pulse, fast and shallow breathing, sweating and complaints of nausea and thirst. If you suspect shock, lie the casualty down and raise their legs above the level of their heart. Make sure you keep the casualty warm.

Remember to listen or watch news and weather bulletins, and to take the precautionary advice given by organisations such as An Garda Síochána, Met Eireann, the Road Safety Authority and Local Authorities as well as the HSE.

Further information on health services in your area is available through the HSE Information Line on 1850 24 1850 and on the HSE website, www.hse.ie. This information will be regularly updated during the course of the adverse weather conditions.