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NHS to raise army of Good Samaritans for winter

The NHS has today issued a call for 100,000 people to sign a pledge saying they will look in on an elderly friend or neighbour this winter.

Each winter thousands of people in England die as a result of cold weather. Most are over 75 and most of these deaths could be avoided. Hundreds of thousands of others spend much of the winter alone and lonely.

The campaign, led by the NHS Choices website ( and supported by the Daily Mail and the Telegraph media groups, seeks to help by appealing to an old-fashioned sense of neighbourliness. Specifically, it is asking for 100,000 people to sign an electronic pledge that states: “I will take time out this winter to look in on an elderly friend or neighbour to make sure they are warm and coping well.”

Those who sign the Winter Friends pledge will receive free cold weather alerts and email tips throughout the winter to help them do their bit.

One of the first to sign the pledge is the actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley. She said yesterday that becoming a Winter Friend would not just help the elderly but bring great rewards to those that took part.

Miss Lumley said: “A little help really does go a long way. You will also find, I’m sure, that giving a bit of your time in this way is hugely rewarding. Older people can be physically frail but they have a lifetime’s wisdom and experience to share.

“That’s why I’m proud to lend my support to the NHS Winter Friends Pledge. Please join me and together we can make sure this winter is a wonderful winter for everyone.”

Other prominent figures supporting the campaign include the Olympic gold medalist Sally Gunnell, the actors Sir Tony Robinson and Olivia Colman, the television presenters Richard Madeley and Jenni Falconer, and the rapper Plan B.

People who wish to sign the pledge and join the NHS Winter Friends campaign should go to Signing the pledge takes only a moment but research suggests that if 100,000 people sign many lives will be enriched and many deaths avoided. 

In England, 51% of all people over 75 live alone and 5m older people say the television is their main form of company. Research shows that loneliness and social isolation are also harmful to our physical health.  Studies indicate that lack of social connections is as likely to cause early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The initiative is part of wider NHS campaign to encourage people to take care of their health during winter.

NHS England recently published analysis showing that the number of unnecessary emergency admissions to hospital rises in winter. It showed that older people are most likely to be affected and that the one of the biggest issues is respiratory conditions.

Professor Mike Morgan, National Clinical Director for Respiratory Health, said: “My message to the public is simple: look after yourself this winter. If you know someone who is frail or elderly or has an existing health problem and they are feeling unwell, encourage them to seek early advice, go to their local pharmacy or GP before one problem leads to another and they end up in hospital.”