Looking after yourself this winter

8 November 2022
NHS Flu jab service poster

With COVID-19 making people very ill every day and the added seasonal risks from flu, the winter season can have an impact on our health. Charlotte James, Public Health Coordinator at Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange (Leeds GATE) and Liz Keat, an Outreach Nurse share steps we can all take to stay well this winter and the healthcare options available to us all.

Long read

Since the birth of the NHS in 1948, healthcare in the UK has been free to everybody. However, the COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on how healthcare may not always be accessible to everyone in the same way. As Charlotte explains,

“Everyone, including Gypsy and Traveller people, want good health for themselves and their families. But with a life expectancy gap of 28 years from the rest of the population1, access to healthcare is an important issue which needs to be addressed.

“Coming from the Gypsy community myself and in my job, I understand it takes time to build positive relationships. To improve life expectancy, health and wellbeing, it’s important that health services engage the community, and improve access to services and self-care knowledge.”

Liz adds that studies suggest Gypsies and Travellers experience poorer health than the general population, with almost two in five having a long-term illness. To make it easier to manage these conditions, it’s best to contact healthcare professionals as early as possible. There are many ways you can do this.

Know your services

Your NHS is here to help you - whether for a new or a long-standing concern, you can get help from:

a local pharmacy for advice about minor ailments, symptoms or existing prescriptions

a local GP surgery for advice and treatment of a range of existing and general health issues delivered by a variety of healthcare professionals

an Urgent Treatment Centre for help with cuts, sprains, strains and minor burns

999 or a local accident and emergency (A&E) department for serious or life-threatening conditions.

Visit 111.nhs.uk or call 111 if you have an urgent medical problem and you’re not sure what to do.

The NHS app for your phone or tablet allows you to get a COVID pass for travel, to access some of your health records and to access some online services

Getting help from the right service will ensure you are seen quicker by a skilled professional who can help manage any health concerns and get you to the treatment you need.

Wherever possible it’s best to approach a GP for ongoing and general health issues. Everyone is entitled to register with a GP practice free of charge, even if you don’t have proof of address or immigration status, ID or an NHS number. If you are in a different area, or not registered with one, you can approach a local practice.

“All practices have a responsibility to register people who have a local temporary address, a care of address or who report they are staying on land within the practice boundary” adds Liz.

NHS services are available in the community too, for example in a pop-up tent, or a medical van or bus. Everyone is invited to access NHS care offered in this way, including people who don’t have a GP. Charlotte adds,

“We are always open to services reaching out to work with us. We deliver vaccination clinics, health checks and screenings at our building and on sites in partnership with services and health champions from the community. People can access care in a safe space and sessions are really well attended.”

Top tips for taking care of yourself over winter

Seek help early for any worrying symptoms

If you have noticed something doesn’t feel right or are concerned about changes to your body, please have it checked by a GP. Perhaps a cough that has lasted over three weeks, blood in your urine or poo, a lump or changes in your breast tissue or a change in a mole or a persistent sore.


“Detecting problems early, can help you to get appropriate treatment sooner. If you have symptoms that you cannot explain or that are worrying to you, then please contact your GP practice, pharmacist or health professional” says Liz, “In the majority of cases there is nothing to worry about and you can be reassured, but if it is serious, it's really important to find out as soon as possible.”

Get free NHS health screening

Each year around 10,000 lives are saved as over 15 million people are invited for screening. From  birth to our twilight years, we are offered different types of screening at specific stages of our lives, which also includes during pregnancy.

Screening can identify health risks and signs of disease that you may not be able to see or feel. It helps to prevent illnesses like cancer or catching and treating conditions early. The following types of screening are available, if you are:

pregnant you may be offered screening at certain times and once baby is born, to improve their health and prevent disabilities.

aged 25 to 64 and been invited for cervical screening but not yet come forward, we would encourage you to. It looks for risks that cancer could develop and with treatment can prevent cervical cancer.

aged 60 to 74 and been sent a bowel cancer home testing kit, please take the time to return it. It looks for blood in your poo that you may not be able to see a sign of bowel cancer. The bowel cancer screening testing kit is also being rolled out to 56 year olds and some 58 years olds as part of plans to expand the offer to all over 50s.

aged 50 to 70 and been invited for breast screening, we would urge you to book your appointment, to ensure we catch any cancers early.

aged 65 you will be contacted to come forward to screen for an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which can be very serious and life threatening.

aged over 12 with diabetes, you are invited for eye screening.

To find out more about screening, talk to your GP or visit www.nhs.uk.

Keep your family up to date with routine vaccinations

Vaccinations protect us and our families against potentially life-changing diseases, throughout our lives. There are vaccines to protect babies from eight-weeks-old, as well as pre-school vaccines like for Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR). In-school vaccinations include HPV (to protect against cervical cancer) and top-up doses of vaccines given to younger children.

“If your child hasn’t had their routine vaccinations, or you are home educating any children, speak to your GP practice, or one in your local area, to arrange those your child is entitled to. Home-schooled children and children not in mainstream education should be invited for vaccination by the School Aged Immunisation service. If you do not hear from them, please ask your Local Authority Education Department for further information.” Says Liz

To check if your child is up to date with their vaccinations, you can look in their ‘red book’ (which shows their vaccination history) or contact your GP practice. Even as an adult, if you think you may have missed some of your vaccinations, it’s never too late to ask.

Find out more about NHS vaccinations at www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations.

Get extra protection over winter

With winter ahead, flu and COVID booster vaccines are again available for free on the NHS for older people, pregnant women and others at greater risk from these viruses, for example because they have certain health conditions. Getting vaccinated against flu and COVID-19 is especially important as colder months draw in as this is when these viruses circulate most.

It’s not too late to come forward for an earlier dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Getting all the doses you need gives you and your loved ones the best protection from serious illness and hospitalisation. The COVID-19 vaccine does not contain any animal products and has been approved by religious leaders including the Catholic and Anglican churches.

To book your COVID-19 vaccine, visit http://www.nhs.uk/get-vaccination or call 119 for free. To find out more about the flu vaccine and who is eligible, visit www.nhs.uk/flujab.

If in doubt – check

If in doubt about what you need, Liz thinks it is better to ask. She says, “It’s useful to know which screening and vaccinations you are entitled to, so you can talk to your GP about them. Staff will be pleased to offer screening appointments or arrange any vaccinations you may have missed. You won’t be judged by anyone, and they will be happy to answer your questions so you can make informed decisions.”


1Baker, M, (2005) Leeds Baseline Census 2004-2005 Gypsies and Travellers. Leeds: Leeds Racial Equality Council. https://observatory.leeds.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/GTR-HNA-post-consultation-June-2019.pdf

2Progress report by the ministerial working group on tackling inequalities experienced by Gypsies and Travellers https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/6287/2124046.pdf

by TT News