The NICE guideline says that GPs should make the most of ‘untapped opportunities’ to spot and help vulnerable patients.
During routine appointments, doctors could identify the people who need help and direct them to the housing department, energy experts or social care professionals with their consent, NICE said.
‘GPs are already seeing vulnerable people who may be at risk because of cold homes all the time anyway, and we can do something to prevent these winter deaths,’ Dr David Sloan, a former GP who helped to develop the NICE guidance, told GP.
GP visits reduced
‘If this is done right, GPs will need to see people less often and they’ll be less often admitted to hospital, as well as fewer of them dying earlier.’
There are around 24,000 ‘excess deaths’ in winter. People with respiratory or cardiovascular problems are particularly at risk, as well as people over 65 and children under five.
The guideline says that GPs should ‘assess the heating needs of people who use their services, whether during a home visit or elsewhere’ at least once a year.
Dr Sloan said this would involve GPs asking some additional questions about whether patients’ homes were warm enough during routine checks and flu vaccinations.
‘What we’re trying to get GPs to do is to ‘think cold’. It’s not a huge additional burden, we’re just saying think about it when seeing people who are particularly vulnerable to the cold.’
GPs could also help to dispel misconceptions about cold weather, such as being cold being good for your health or that alcohol can help to keep someone warm, the NICE guideline suggests.
Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive of NICE, said: ‘Properly using this huge number of contact opportunities can make a big difference in preventing illness and saving lives.’