IT’S BEEN no surprise to hear a throng of sneezing, coughing and hoarse throats back at work this week.
Like many others, I also fell victim to the ‘lurgy’ over the festive season but the numbers affected nationally – and the impact on our NHS – have been significant in recent weeks.
I’d like to personally thank all staff that worked so hard over the holidays with the pressures mounting at hospitals up and down the country.
And let’s not forget our own Oldham Council staff who have also gone the extra mile (literally!) in hazardous conditions ensuring roads were continuously gritted through a prolonged cold weather snap, plus our refuse collectors who also did a fantastic job picking up all that extra Yuletide waste.
Every winter sees several strains of flu doing the rounds and this year things seem to have been complicated further by so-called H3N2 – better known as ‘Aussie flu’.
Flu symptoms can come on very quickly but, for most of us, following the tried and trusted advice to drink lots of fluids, rest up in bed and take paracetamol/ibuprofen usually does the trick.
However for some people, especially the very old, very young or people with pre-existing conditions like heart disease, flu can be deadly and that’s why it’s more important now than ever that we all take the right decisions about what help we really need when we get ill.
Adults over 65, pregnant women or those with underlying health conditions are advised to get a free flu jab, and a free nasal spray is also available to children aged two to eight.
But with more people turning up at GP surgeries with symptoms or being admitted to hospital with flu, we must all try to act responsibly and avoid unnecessarily clogging surgeries and A&E departments to help the NHS prioritise those most in need of care.
At the first sign of illness, even just a cough or a cold, you should act quickly by talking to your local pharmacist for professional advice or visiting www.nhs.uk
Please also remember that 999 is for life-threatening emergencies only.
If you need medical help fast – but it’s not a 999 emergency – then call NHS 111 for clinical advice, assessment and signposting to the most appropriate treatment.
Please also do #yourbit if you have symptoms of flu by avoiding unnecessary contact with other people, washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water and cleaning surfaces regularly to stop the spread of flu. And, of course, check on any vulnerable neighbours or relatives that you have as temperatures plummet and risks rise.
Another place that has also been busy over the holiday season has been Oldham Foodbank.
Their latest data paints a bleak picture of the struggles local people are continuing to experience.
From January 1, 2017 to New Year’s Eve in 2017, Oldham Foodbank provided 7,078 three-day emergency supplies to local people in crisis – a figure that is up substantially from 5,554 in 2016.
Of that number, 2,425 packages went to children and Oldham Foodbank say issues with benefit payments account for 70 per cent of all their referrals: well above the national average of 43 per cent.
The unpaid work done by volunteers at Oldham Foodbank is simply inspirational and their running costs each year are £6,000 for operating a van, picking up and distributing food, and overheads like electricity and insurance.
This really shouldn’t be necessary in 2018 – and in one of the richest economies of the world(!) – but please visit their website here if you can offer any help.
Just over one week into 2018 and it’s again palpably clear that this is a Government that needs to focus on the ‘day job’ more – not just Brexit.
We deserve a Cabinet and top team capable of tackling the real problems making life miserable for so many people – like the underfunding of our NHS and the distress caused by welfare reform policies – but I see nothing in this week’s reshuffle to give me hope that we’ll be seeing any significant change in approach.
Finally, I must mention the tragic death of Kieran Quinn, Tameside Council Leader, on Christmas Day.
This news came as such a huge shock to everyone involved in regional politics and my heart goes out to Susan, his wife, and his family and friends.
He was held in high regard across Greater Manchester by politicians of all parties, by fellow trade unionists, by his Tameside and GM political and officer colleagues and by the residents he served as a committed Council Leader and Ward Councillor.
He will be sorely missed.