PEOPLE may feel that summer is not the ideal time to talk about winter and cold-related ailments.

I would disagree. If something needs to be done for problems in winter, the best time ought to be mid or late summer, steps for combating cold weather must commence in summer in order to make them fully working and effective, by the winter, to those who will need them.

The effects of cold weather, damp and soaking are well recognised. A lot has been written about ‘hypothermia’ each year to make everyone aware of its prevalence and implications and its often disastrous consequences.

The country spends a lot of money in facing the effects of winter in a variety of ways. Over the years, a number of schemes have been introduced as ‘preventive’ measures. And these are well publicised. Sadly despite all this, things still go wrong.

A novel approach is currently being practised in a northern region which has so far been found to be cost-effective in preventing or reducing winter ailments in many vulnerable older people.

Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group in collaboration with a Housing Agency for the last 18 months has tried a system of 'prescribing' a domestic boiler to some of their elderly, vulnerable individuals. And so far it has achieved a massive 68 per cent reduction in GP surgery attendances by older people in winter months.

It goes like this. After a thorough assessment of the domestic heating status/expenditure by health care staff and trained engineers, if any obvious shortfall is detected, the situation is reported to the appropriate GP and social agency followed by installation of an energy-efficient new boiler and other necessary heat conserving measures. A special grant is made to the scheme by the CCG resulting in an ultimate saving to the overall NHS. The attendance at surgeries drop, attendances at A & E diminish and most importantly a massive 25 per cent reduction in emergency admissions among frail individuals mostly living alone. It is not rocket science to understand, all these save a lot of money, time, hassle and suffering. At the same time people are encouraged to take more responsibility of their own health and take better care of themselves rather than knocking at the doctor's door or calling an emergency ambulance.

No additional funding was needed as such, just a re-allocation of standard NHS budget from cure to prevention. In times of difficulties when the care system is almost bankrupt, one should be innovative but not uncaring; health care can be delivered in many ways. We must not think of a doctor attendance or a hospital bed all the time. New ideas do come up but not always listened to or taken seriously; nor even properly tried before rejection.

The Sunderland project seems to be innovative, interesting and effective and seems to be delivering the desired result. Why not try a similar scheme in Bolton – our A&E gets supersaturated each winter, hospitals are always full and often seriously ill patients are sent home much early and then frequently bounce back.

Perhaps we should think more about prevention rather than doctors, hospitals and medications all the time. The scheme outlined is of course not a replacement of medical care as such but seems to be a useful way to handle matters differently.

Arup Banerjee