WE'VE all felt the drop in temperature over the last couple of weeks signalling that winter's just around the corner.
Within the health service, the wintry turn also means the flu season is fast approaching and, as such, GP surgeries are already running vaccination clinics to provide people with the best protection against the virus.
The vaccination is provided free by the NHS for pregnant women, those aged over 65, and anyone between six months and 65 years who has a medical condition which could be worsened by flu. It is quick, simple, virtually painless and, despite myths to the contrary, cannot actually give you the flu as it contains no live virus.
A new annual nasal spray flu vaccine is also now being offered to all children aged two and three years as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.
Over time, as the programme rolls out, all children between the ages of two and 16 will be vaccinated against flu each year with the nasal spray.
Those who have had the flu will tell you it is very different to a common cold, often confining the fittest of people to bed. For those in the 'at risk' groups the effects can be more serious, leading to hospitalisation and worse in some cases.
For this reason it is important people take the opportunity to protect themselves before an outbreak occurs.
Within our own trust and in other NHS organisations across the country, staff vaccination clinics are also under way. These are an absolutely vital element of the annual response to flu, with two key benefits: protecting individual staff members and their teams from the virus, thereby avoiding unnecessary staff sickness and ensuring our services remain accessible and effective during the winter; and minimising the risk of staff passing the flu to those they care for.
We were really pleased with our vaccination figures for last year, but hope to do even better this year so we can protect more people across Torbay and South Devon.
To find out more about flu and the national vaccination campaign Flu Safe, log on to www.nhs.uk
For details of your local flu clinic, speak to your GP surgery.