Additional measures are being put in place to help ease pressures on NHS Forth Valley this winter.
On-the-spot testing for flu, extending outpatient antibiotic therapy and increasing specialist nursing in the community are just some of the ways the local health board aims to do so.
Extra support is also being provided to help avoid hospital admissions and ensure those who do require inpatient care are able to return home more quickly.
Arrangements to test patients who arrive at hospital for flu are being put in place so that they can be treated more effectively, either at home or in hospital, with appropriate measures to help reduce the spread of infection to others.
There will also be an extension to what is known as the OPAT service, where intravenous antibiotic therapy is given on an outpatient basis instead of having to admit people to hospital for treatment.
And, following a successful pilot last winter, where people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) were managed by a specialist respiratory team, a similar service will operate again this year.
Last year’s pilot resulted in almost 400 patients receiving support in the community and those who did require inpatient care had their length of their stay in hospital reduced by around a day.
Other measures to try to reduce winter pressures include deploying musculoskeletal physiotherapists in the Emergency Department at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, which is particularly beneficial during spells of icy weather when falls are more prevalent.
Mental health nurses will also be working with GPs in NHS Forth Valley’s Primary Care out-of-hours service at night and weekends.
Although the festive season is for many a happy occasion, it can also become stressful and lonely for some, resulting in higher demand for mental health support.
Details of the enhanced services are contained in a Winter Plan which is a joint initiative between NHS Forth Valley and Clackmannanshire and Stirling and Falkirk Health and Social Care Partnerships.
Andrea Fyfe, director of acute services at NHS Forth Valley, said: “Winter is the busiest time of year for the NHS and is it vital we have plans in place to cope with the increase in demand.
“We are also appealing to local people to avoid putting pressure on the Emergency Department by making use of other local health services for minor illnesses and injuries.
“And it is not too late for anyone eligible for a free flu jab to take up the offer.”
The Minor Injuries Centre at Stirling Health and Care Village will be open every day throughout the winter period from 9am-9pm.
It offers treatment to patients from across Forth Valley over the age of one for a wide range of minor injuries including suspected broken bones, sprains and strains, cuts and scratches, minor burns and infected wounds.
Pharmacists across Forth Valley can provide advice for common winter illnesses such as coughs and colds and are also provide free treatment for a range of conditions without a GP prescription.
These include urine infections, conjunctivitis, skin conditions (such as eczema, dermatitis and reactions to insect bites), skin infections (such as cellulitis and impetigo) and thrush.
Local opticians across Forth Valley can also provide advice and support for a range of eye conditions such as blurred vision and eye infections and can refer people to hospital, if required.
GP and dental surgeries will only be closed for two days at Christmas and New Year, however, anyone who is concerned about symptoms and unable to wait until a surgery re-opens can call NHS 24 free on 111.
Winter health information and advice can be found on the Winter Zone of the NHS Forth Valley website www.nhsforthvalley.com/winter.