HEALTH and social care teams in the area have joined together to co-ordinate a response to the winter challenges facing hospitals and GPs this year.

Hospital clinicians and staff, GPs, mental health organisations, ambulance teams and local councils have drawn up a comprehensive plan to make sure services are working well together and prepared for winter, flu and Covid-19, along with all the other usual health demands.

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This includes local teams throughout the wider Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Winter is always a very pressured time for the NHS, with the cold weather and hazardous conditions leading to increased calls on GP services and the hospital’s Emergency Department (ED, formerly A&E).

This, coupled with Covid-19, means it's even more essential for health and social care teams to provide joined up care and services that best meet the needs of local communities.

Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust

Dom Hardy, Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust's Chief Operating Officer, said: "Our winter planning this year looks very different because of Covid-19.

"However, we are fully prepared, building on the good work we've done over previous winters and using all the information we've learned during Covid.

"We've always worked closely with our partners, locally, regionally and nationally, to maximise resources and expertise to provide efficient and joined up services, and we've escalated this now to make sure people know how to access care and which service is the most appropriate for their particular needs.

"Of course, if they have genuinely life-threatening conditions like serious chest pains or a stroke then they must come to ED.

"But if people are unwell and unsure where to go for help there is a range of options open to them, including NHS 111 online, their local pharmacy, minor injuries unit or their GP.

"We're working hard to keep on top of our planned and emergency work and to do it safely whilst also caring for Covid patients, but we need the co-operation of local people here.

"If anyone has an appointment they must attend – the hospital is perfectly safe and it's important we continue to manage patients' healthcare and treatment."

Berkshire West CCG

Dr Abid Irfan, Chair of the Berkshire West CCG, said: "GP surgeries are all open for business and it’s essential people contact us if they are worried about things like lumps, unexpected bleeding or weight loss.

"People are asked to ring or make contact with their surgery online where their concerns will be triaged and we'll discuss with them the most appropriate course of action.

"NHS 111 gives people the opportunity to talk to fully trained advisors available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they have access to relevant healthcare professionals including nurses, emergency dentists, mental health support and GPs.

"And of course there is a lot people can do to help themselves stay well over winter - stock up on painkillers and suchlike, eat healthily, limit alcohol to the recommended limits, stop smoking, try and keep warm, have a flu jab and take some exercise.

"There’s a wide range of support and advice on about ways to do this."

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Mental health services

Another key concern for health and social care teams is mental health, and a raft of support services are available for people struggling to cope.

These include for free, confidential online counselling for 11-18 years, and Talking Therapies, which can be accessed by people self referring on 0300 365 2000.

For more urgent mental health concerns,people can call the Common Point of Entry on 0300 365 0300.

In an emergency, if someone is in immediate danger, they should ring 999.