How we can all ‘do our bit’ in wintry weather

Snow removalWINTRY WEATHER is forecast in the next 48 hours or so – and that will probably mean more pressure on local services.

We’re hardened to dealing with snow, icy roads and winds here in Oldham, of course, and it’s important to stress that we’re not unusually concerned by anything in the forecasts at this stage.

It can’t have escaped your attention in recent days, however, that the pressures on the NHS are at a critical point right now up and down the country.

It was alarming to read the British Red Cross’ claims last weekend that our NHS is facing a “humanitarian crisis” as hospitals and ambulance services battle to match rising demand.

The reality is we all know that the winter can traditionally be an extremely challenging time, especially for urgent care services like A&E.

These months always see an increase in hospital admissions and can inevitably lead to breaches of the ‘urgent and emergency care standard’ – which is that 95 per cent of patients should be seen, treated, admitted or discharged within four hours of presenting at A&E.

But whatever the political arguments about targets and the funding of the NHS there are some things that all of us can and should do to help to reduce unnecessary demand.

snow2As a council we work actively with partners to help ensure those people most at risk of preventable emergency admission to hospital are and helped to take the necessary actions to avoid that happening.

By avoiding going to A&E unless a medical condition is a genuine emergency – and by using local pharmacies and NHS 111 for medical advice – we can all significantly help to cut non-urgent demand.

For our loved ones and others there are other things to consider…

Winter conditions can be bad for anyone’s health; especially those people aged 65 or over, and those with long-term health conditions.

That’s why keeping warm is absolutely vital. It can prevent colds, flu and more serious health problems like heart attack, strokes, pneumonia and depression.

If you are struggling to heat your home then Warm Homes Oldham can help you with things like insulating your property, replacing broken boilers, advice on debt, benefit entitlements and cutting bills through energy efficiency measures. You can find out more at www.warmhomesoldham.org or by calling 0800 019 1084

Another step you can take is to make sure your family have had the flu jab.

This is free for pregnant women, the over-65s, people with long-term health conditions and children aged 2 to 4 years. Ask at your GP if you’ve not had this.

You should also act quickly when you are feeling unwell. Speak to your pharmacist at the first sign of winter illness or call 111 for medical advice, assessment and direction to the best medical treatment for you.

All of Oldham’s GP practices are open from 8am to 6.30pm (Monday to Friday) as a minimum.

iccThe Walk In service at the Integrated Care Centre (right) is open from 8am to 8pm every day of the year.

It’s also vital that we look out for our neighbours, friends and family members at these times.

Icy pavements and roads can stop people from getting out and about which might mean they miss out on vital medicine or food. A friendly face just popping round to have a brew can also work wonders for isolated people – and it costs you nothing other than just a few minutes of your time.

Don’t forget that the ‘Winter’ section on the Oldham Council website here contains all the information you will need about local school and children’s centre closures, gritting routes, bins and travel updates, local support services such as drop-in centres, shelters and food providers; and advice on winter health, affordable warmth grants and flood relief.

You can also stay informed through live winter updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/oldhamcouncil and facebook www.facebook.com/loveoldham

Our updates will also be publicised to local media, including radio and newspapers.

Here’s hoping that the impact of this week’s weather turns out to be nothing out of the ordinary for this time of year – but please note this information and make sure you are prepared, just in case.

Jean

Business and Transport: Our Economic Engine Room

jardine-audi-site-oldham-57BUSINESSES of all shapes and sizes are the lifeblood of our local economy; the dynamo that can power the place and people forward.

Oldham Council is often the first point of access – especially for smaller ventures – when they’re seeking support to get ideas and plans off the ground.

We know local firms are the engines of social mobility and potential gamechangers to the status quo in creating new products, services and, ultimately, jobs.

That’s why we take our role in championing, supporting them and encouraging growth in every area so seriously and this week I visited two great examples of how we are succeeding.

On Monday I went down to Chadderton Way to meet Stephen Pettyfer, Group Property Director of the Jardine Motors Group who are bringing an Audi dealership to town.

Builders are now six weeks into the construction of a huge showroom on the former Westhulme Hospital site in what represents an £8 million investment for the firm.

They’d approached us last year with plans to base their Northern hub at the five-acre site and, although the land is not council-owned, we worked with NHS bosses to broker the deal and bring the site forward quickly for development.

It will see the creation of around 90 new skilled jobs and is a high-end global brand that we are proud to see investing here.

With most of the steel infrastructure already in place, I’m really looking forward to revisiting the site to see the finished development next year.

parliamentsq1I also had the great pleasure to open another new business right in the heart of Oldham town centre yesterday.

Attracted by the Old Town Hall cinema and restaurants scheme, this is just the latest local venture to benefit from our Independent Quarter scheme.

Ross McGivern has taken advantage of our business support, advice and a Building Improvement Grant to make his dream a reality.

He also liked our plans for Parliament Square so much that he’s even named his new delicatessen and cafe after it as ‘The Parliament SQ’.

Ross’ enthusiasm already seems to have been instilled in his friendly team and – after linking up with our Get Oldham Working campaign – he will initially be employing up to 18 new staff.

It’s great to see this site, the old Santander building, back in use after three years of being vacant and I was really impressed by the stylish interior and glass frontage which gives fantastic views across Parliament Square and over to the Old Town Hall.

This is yet another different addition to the fast-growing dining and entertainment offer in Oldham and I am sure – especially given Ross’ focus on great customer service – that it will be a big hit with locals and visitors alike.

Part of the new attraction to Oldham is, of course, the Metrolink line. We unashamedly set out to use its arrival as a catalyst for our own regeneration programme and to attract more private investment.

We know that transport is vital to our future growth prospects. Strong connectivity is important to make sure that all our residents, partners and businesses – and those we hope to attract in the future – have a level playing field in terms of access to new opportunities.

That’s why I’ve teamed up with Richard Farnell, Rochdale Council Leader, in urging Transport for Greater Manchester to deliver on giving our Oldham-Rochdale line a direct link to Manchester Piccadilly, rather than people having to change tram at Manchester Victoria.

It can’t be right that our line will be the only branch of the network without an unbroken link to that transport hub with its important strategic links to London and beyond.

The justification we’ve been given is based on the current levels of demand on our line. But that doesn’t take any account of future growth and – by denying us that extension – it actually hampers the prospects of that future growth happening.

Both Oldham and Rochdale are positive partners in Greater Manchester devolution who are investing in our boroughs through physical and social regeneration schemes. We are asking for that to be recognised and supported, and we look forward to productive talks soon about this with Tony Lloyd, the Interim Mayor, and Andrew Fender, Chair of the TfGm committee.

I always like to end my blogs on a positive note so there’s two final things I’d highlight this week…

gritterThe first is the astonishing national public reaction to our ‘Name a Gritter’ competition with local primary school children. Spurred on by the infamous ‘Boaty McBoatface’ saga earlier this year, it has really caught the imagination with more than 2,500 entries to date – and a lot by adults that simply can’t be included(!)

The great thing is this all helps us to raise awareness of the vital work our gritting teams do. It’s also a fun way to teach young people about road safety and winter weather.

The competition closes at 5pm today (Wednesday) and we’re hoping to announce the much-anticipated winner later this week.

And finally, I did promise you some really positive news would be coming this week, and it will.

Watch our Twitter feed and local media from 7am on Friday and you will be the first to read all about it…

Jean

The hidden impact of winter weather

WINTRY weather can have a huge impact when it hits the borough – not just the immediate inconvenience it causes, but on people’s long-term health.

Even though we’re hardened to bitter Arctic winds and freezing fog in Oldham it was something of a surprise to get a blast of up to 30cm of snow (in higher areas) so late in the season last Friday.

The scale of that snowfall was dramatic and I’m always thankful we can rely on our brilliant gritting team who, once again, helped keep the borough moving and cleared our primary routes round the clock.

But when a cold spell like that hits us my thoughts also turn to people on low incomes, behind with their bills and struggling with basics like fuel and food costs.

It’s easy to forget that weather conditions like those don’t just affect schools, bus services and local events, they also pose a serious threat in terms of ill health.

One key reason for that is fuel poverty.

This is defined as spending more than 10 per cent of your income on heating – and it remains a sad reality for more than two million people in the UK.

The facts are (literally) chilling.

Data shows that one older person dies every seven minutes during the winter – almost 120,000 from cold weather or associated factors over the last four winters alone.

And if you compare that with Nordic countries, such as Sweden, which have much harsher conditions in the cold months, you find their mortality rates are lower than ours.

IMG_5256So when the mercury plummets like it did last week many of us take for granted being able to just turn up the heating at home, but that isn’t such a simple choice for some.

That’s why, as a Co-operative Council, we set up the Warm Homes Oldham service to help.

This is jointly funded by ourselves, Oldham NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and the Oldham Housing Investment Partnership. It brings health and housing bodies together to address that direct link between fuel poverty and illness.

It’s also recognised by all partners that no single organisation is solely responsible for the health of our residents – we all are. It delivers a joined-up approach that will ultimately cut the numbers of people admitted to hospital and deliver other wellbeing benefits that will cut costs for all partners and, more importantly, improve the quality of life for the people helped by the scheme.

The help on offer from Warm Homes Oldham includes the fitting of home improvements, energy efficiency and switching advice, plus support for claiming benefits, getting off prepayment meters and clearing fuel debt.

In the last three years we’ve now fitted the second highest number of home improvements and new energy saving measures – like boilers, loft insulation and cladding – in the country.

Figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change show that 170 out of every 1,000 households in Oldham have now benefitted from an Eco grant and our scheme has helped lift more than 3,300 homes out of fuel poverty.

We’ve got many fantastic case studies of the positive impact this had for local people and you can see some of these by watching the video at the top of this page.

So when I think about great examples of what we mean by living in a Co-operative Borough, the Warm Homes Oldham scheme is always high on my list.

I also know that many of you ‘do your bit’ during the bad weather – like checking on your elderly and vulnerable neighbours to make sure they are okay or clearing their paths – and that is fantastic to see.

But I would ask you all to please take a moment today to consider if you know anyone who might benefit from the Warm Homes Oldham service.

It’s already been so successful that it has been able to secure more than £3.5 million in funding from external sources. We want that success to continue.

And although you may think winter is almost behind us, I would urge you to take action now whilst this is fresh in your mind.

Cold homes are currently a bigger killer across the UK than road accidents, alcohol or drug abuse – which is shocking.

Please help us spread the word about the scheme and to improve the lives and health of people in your community.

For more information, or to book a free home visit to find out exactly how we can help, visit www.warmhomesoldham.org or call 0800 019 1084.

Jean