West Berkshire Council

Public Health Blog

News and updates from West Berkshire Council's Public Health Team

Keeping you updated on health and wellbeing issues in West Berkshire, plus health improvement services and campaigns across the council and district. 

Our Public Health and Wellbeing Team is committed to reducing local health inequalities and supporting vulnerable groups. You can contact us or visit our Public Health page for more information.



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Alcohol: what's your score?

Written on: 26-5-2017

Image of alcohol bottles on supermarket shelves

I've just been to my local convenience shop and seen a beautiful display of bottles of wine and spirits, not to mention the beer. It reminded me to get this post published.

Three questions:

1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?

Never - 0 points

Monthly or less - 1 point

2 to 4 times per month - 2 points

2 to 3 times per week - 3 points

4 or more times per week - 4 points

2. How many units of alcohol do you drink on a typical day when you are drinking?

0 to 2 units - 0 points

3 to 4 units - 1 point

5 to 6 units - 2 points

7 to 9 units - 3 points

10 or more units - 4 points

3. How often have you had 6 or more units if female, or 8 or more if male, on a single occasion in the last year?

Never - 0 points 

Less than monthly - 1 point

Monthly - 2 points 

Weekly - 3 points

What's your total score?

0 to 4 - Congratulations! You are within the low risk guidelines.

5 to 10 - Try making a few changes so you don't put your health at risk.

11 - consider speaking to your GP, get in touch with Swanswell Alcohol Recovery Service or call Drink Line on 0300 1231110

If you scored 5 or more, check out this alcohol self-assessment from Drinkaware.

More than 9 million people in England drink more than the low risk guidelines and alcohol related harm costs England around £21bn per year:

  • £3.5bn to the NHS
  • £11bn tackling alcohol-related crime
  • £7.3bn from lost work days and productivity costs (PHE, 2015)

The risks of excessive alcohol consumption

Your Liver

Alcohol is the leading risk factor for preventable deaths in 15 to 49 year olds (PHE, 2014). In 2014/15 in West Berkshire there were 95 people admitted to hospital with chronic liver disease. This number has increased every year from 2011. Alcohol misuse also significantly contributes to some cancers, high blood pressure and stroke. Both men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week and have 2 or 3 alcohol free days per week. For women who are pregnant or wish to be pregnant, no alcohol is the safest approach.

Your Lover

If you drink to excess, your loved ones may suffer. Domestic abuse is linked to excessive alcohol use in 25 to 50% of cases. In 333 domestic abuse crimes in West Berkshire between 2016 and 2017 children were present.

Your Livelihood

The negative impact of alcohol misuse affects productivity owing to sickness-related absence, inappropriate behaviour, accidents and poor performance. The Department of Work and Pensions reported 1 in 15 working age benefit claimants are 'suffering from alcohol dependency', around 170,000 people nationally.

The Law

Being over the limit lasts for several hours, so driving to work the following morning you may still be over the legal limit. In West Berkshire the rate of alcohol related traffic accidents is 32 per 100,000 compared with the national average of 26.4 per 100,000.

UK crime statistics show in about half of all violent incidents, the victim believed the offender(s) to be under the influence of alcohol.

Our pubs make and restaurants make a valuable contribution to the local economy and people should enjoy them without fear of being a victim of crime. Happily, Newbury has a Purple Flag award as a safe place to enjoy an evening out.

Here are some quick tips for reducing alcohol related harm:

  • Have drink free days every week
  • Keep a track of how much you drink
  • Avoid drinking in rounds or large groups but if you do set, yourself a limit
  • If you're bored or stressed - do something active instead of drinking

West Berkshire's Alcohol Harm Reduction Partnership is working to reduce the negative impact of alcohol across West Berkshire.

Our relationship with alcohol is a very personal one. Is your relationship with alcohol a healthy one? If not, there is plenty of support available.

For more information on how to cut down your drinking:

Warning Signs!

Written on: 20-4-2017

Red Warning Triangle with and Exclamation mark

This is a cautionary tale to evidence what happens if we don't listen to what our bodies are telling us.

I, (Miss A), just had my first cortisone injection to help ease my Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and currently my hand and wrist feel worse than before, oh dear!

As anyone would do when they encounter an ache, pain, physical or mental problem, I have wondered what brought on my condition. Looking back, I seem to remember warning signs when doing repetitive manual work, but I carried on with it because I felt strong and healthy and I was completing projects, looking at the long-term goals, and jolly pleased with myself overall. I was forging ahead, I completed my sanding and painting projects driven by my ambition and ego which resulted in me damaging myself. Well, I can't be sure what caused my carpal tunnel, but I'm pretty sure I had a hand in it, ha ha ! And now I reflect - not for the first time - that I actually know my body and what it needs.

So why ignore what I know and abuse my priceless assets? It's true, some people do defy the evidence, they use and abuse themselves and come up gloating about how they've stayed healthy.

Any problem could have a hereditary cause, couldn't it? I've read this and I've heard this about many conditions, but on closer inspection, I believe this can be a very misleading proposition ie not a reason to dismiss what you can do to help yourself.

Could a problem be 'an inevitable part of ageing'? No, I'd say this is a very moot point.

I would also say, there's always an upside to every situation: whilst wearing splints, a number of people approached me telling me their tales of hurty wrists, hurty hands. How interesting, I thought, I'm now in a friendly, supportive club. And not only that, I'm better off than they are, going by their stories; not the right attitude! But talking to others about the condition has helped me frame what's going on and got me thinking about where to go from here. And then there was that nice orthopaedic lady I saw at the hospital, I don't mind seeing her again in 6 weeks. Thank goodness the NHS is there to patch us up.

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), is a term usually related to the hands, and I remember it being a 'fashionable' condition in the '90s when people talked about it and people could be off sick from work for protracted periods. RSI was breaking out all over but I was lucky, I didn't get it then. But now it's out of the headlines, it's like it's no longer important.

RSI - any of us could get it - is could be a metaphor for misusing our bodies in general through what we do to them and in this blog I'm referring to all repetitive strain on the body in the widest sense through all the things we put them through.

Now that I have the particular problem I mentioned, I'm doing damage limitation by looking after myself and not over-using my hands. It's like the previous blog. You've got a tooth filling, what do you need to try to prevent yourself getting another, because you will you know if you carry on doing the same thing! If I try wagging a finger at myself, it really hurts!

We have to exercise our intelligence with the potential perils that surround us in life. Looking after ourselves is the perfect motivation to demonstrate our intelligence, perspicacity, astuteness, innate sense. Warning signs are so important to us, no matter who we are or how old we are. I'd say, start by listening to what your mind and body is telling you and go easy on yourself.

Many aches/pains/problems develop over time so you have warning signs, intervene early by contacting your GP surgery, talking to your friendly Public Health Service, reading NHS Choices websites, talking to your friends and family. Ask your workplace to introduce health and wellbeing talks from experts (you can ask Public Health about this), insist on a workstation health and safety assessment, review your lifestyle, posture, hobbies and general stress levels. Weigh the range of evidence and exercise your own Preventative Powers!

In the case of Repetitive Strain Injuries otherwise known as Work Related Upper Limb Disorders (WRULD), employers have a legal duty to prevent work-related RSI and make sure that the symptoms of anyone who already has the condition do not get worse. Therefore employers should carry out a risk-assessment or desk-assessment when you join a work place - or you may do an online self-assessment and then report to HR any issues raised - to ensure the risk of accident and injury is as low as possible. Contact your HR if you have any queries about this matter.

For desk workers:

  • make sure your seat, keyboard, mouse and screen are positioned so that they cause the least amount of strain to your fingers, hands, wrists, neck and back; if you experience any strain act immediately!

  • Adjust your chair so that your forearms are horizontal with the desk and your eyes are the same height as the top of your computer screen

  • Take regular small breaks away from your work station, eg to get a drink, stretch your legs, speak to a colleague





Cake Culture in the Workplace

Written on: 14-3-2017

Cake culture has been in the news : Dentists call to end 'workplace cake culture'

This rang a bell with me, did it with you? There are certainly cakes and biscuits frequently to hand and easy to find in my workplace and we are not doing anything substantial to limit this access for the sake of our wellbeing and health. We don't want to be impolite to our colleagues for palming off their baked experiments or just being friendly and inclusive by bringing treats in to share. No certainly not, it can be really important to share experiences with our colleagues to help teams work well together and cake has become a device for doing this in our work culture. But, because of the health risks around overdoing the sugar consumption, we need to think about how we can make this valuable aspect of our working lives perhaps more virtuous and ultimately more special.

So to make the treats at work more special and celebratory and therefore reduce our sugar consumption we could limit cakes, biscuits and sweets that we share in the office to once a week, and alternate with savoury treats. Or perhaps we could make every other month a sugar treat free month, replaced with fruit. How about we eat our treats in a mindful way, taking a few moments to savour what we are eating together with our work mates, and bring our focus to the action and our bodily sensations and feelings, think about what we are doing and where are thoughts are, rather than stuffing our faces! When we think we need a cake fix at work  - which often seem to occur when we are sedentary - sublimate that with a walk to get a glass of water, go to speak to a colleague, stand up while speaking on the phone, find other work things to do that do not require constant sitting.  We should also plan to have a healthy meal during our work shift so we don't swap if for a sugar fix.

Some employers, including Google, have already taken action to change the work culture by supporting their staff to make healthier choices and reduce their sugar intake while at work. Actions being taken include limiting the sale of sugary drinks on the premises, substituting biscuits for fruit and plain nuts in meetings, providing alternatives in the tuck box, workplace health initiatives by bringing in experts to discuss health topics, and signposting staff to Government and Public Health advice about health and wellbeing such as  health and fitness and eight tips for healthy eating

There is a continuing rise in the UK in people being overweight and obese, the cake culture is one contributory factor. This has many unfortunate consequences not least of which can be Type 2 diabetes which can lead to further complications. And of course cakes, sweets and biscuits are very harmful to our teeth the more we eat and this harm can be irreversible. We need to be very mindful about sugar and how easy it is to over consume it.   Try the useful Be Food Smart app to find out what's in your food :

The Faculty of Dental Surgery has produced 5 Top Tips for reducing sugar consumption at work:

  1. Consider low sugar alternatives. Check out these Sugar Swaps.
  2. Reduce portion sizes.
  3. Avoid snacking and keep sugar as a lunchtime treat.
  4. Develop a sugar schedule to help limit your team's sugar intake. 
  5. Location, location, location - think carefully about where cake and sugar is positioned.

Let's shake up work culture across the country - it can't be that difficult really can it? Let's not only focus on reducing sugar but take the opportunity to welcome healthy work environments and as a result improve productivity.  If you have some positive tips to share on this topic, please contact Public Health and Wellbeing.

You can see the full Position Statement from which this article is derived.  

Take Part in Dry January 2017!

Written on: 30-12-2016

Dry January 2017 Buddy up and beat the booze graphic

The Alcohol Harm Reduction Partnership is a newly established partnership which exists to reduce alcohol related harm in West Berkshire. It's a multi-agency partnership that, as a subgroup of the Health and Wellbeing Board will coordinate the development of an alcohol strategy and detailed action plan to address the priority of reducing alcohol related harm in the district.

Dry January is a national campaign championed by Alcohol Concern and Public Health England which asks people to consider giving up alcohol for the month of January.

Alcohol is one of the three biggest lifestyle risk factors for disease and death in the UK, after smoking and obesity. Deaths from liver disease have reached record levels, rising by 20 per cent in a decade. Research has shown that cutting out alcohol for a month can make significant health and behavioural differences.

Graham Jones, West Berkshire's Executive Member for Public Health and Wellbeing said, "Cutting out alcohol for a month can help people re-evaluate their drinking habits long term. It can be tough to break habits though so this year's Dry January campaign is suggesting that groups of friends take part together and give each other the valuable support needed to make the change.  New research has shown Dry January to be an effective route to changing behaviour with  65 per cent of participants making a positive change to their drinking habits by drinking less, or cutting alcohol out completely. In addition, people cutting out booze for 31 days enjoy the benefits of sleeping better, gaining more energy and clearer skin plus saving cash. That's a great return for a month long investment and working together with friends and family is a great way to make this happen."

Sign up at www.dryjanuary.org.uk to get extra support in the form of regular emails with tips, help and advice, and people can share their experience and ideas via social media.

The Dry January website  has lots of ideas and suggestions to help people through the month, such as delicious mocktail recipes. They can also see just how much calories and cash they are saving by using the calculator.

People don't need to fundraise to take part in Dry January, although they are welcome to raise sponsorship money to help Alcohol Concern.

For more information email info@dryjanuary.org.uk, call 020 7566 9800 or visit the Dry January website.

Further information

Anyone who is worried about their drinking habits can get support and advice from their local GP surgery or contact Swanswell Drug and Alcohol Recovery Service.

Swanswell provide information on staying safe on a night out and drinking safely to reduce risks.

Why do we need to take Flu seriously?

Written on: 1-12-2016

Virtually everyone is susceptible to contracting flu (or influenza) as they go about their daily lives during the flu season.  Flu is a respiratory disease that is very contagious which is why it is important for everyone to take preventative measures to stop it taking hold.  Healthy people and people with a health condition alike can get very sick from the flu and also spread it to others.

Flu is not a stomach or intestinal disease and it is not a cold.

The symptoms of flu can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, sinus and ear infections. The effect of flu on most people is an illness from which they will recover in less than two weeks without the need for medical intervention.  It's important to consider not taking antibiotics if not absolutely necessary.   

Some people develop complications from flu of the upper and lower respiratory tract: nasal passages, throat and lungs.  Further serious complications from flu include sepsis, pneumonia, inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) and muscle tissues (myositis, rhabdomyolysis), and multi-organ failure.

If you contract flu, at a minimum, you will need time off school or work to recover and minimize spread to other people.  At the extreme, you may have to go to hospital and serious complications may lead to death. 

This is why we have to take flu seriously.


Flu is seasonal

There's no getting away from it, flu comes round every year.  There is no defining trigger for flu though colder weather and reduced light conditions are two attributable reasons.  The flu season typically starts in October and peaks between December and February. So far this year, flu cases have been low.


Flu is a viral disease

Every year the flu virus mutates so the vaccination given each year is adapted to be most effective against the predicted current year's viruses.  For this reason, people need to repeat their flu vaccination annually. Because flu viruses evolve so quickly, last year's vaccine may not protect you from this year's viruses. After vaccination, your immune system produces antibodies that should protect you from the vaccine viruses.


Flu is contagious

People with flu can spread it to others from up to about 6 feet/1.8 metres away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These microscopic droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or can be inhaled into the lungs. It is also possible to become infected with flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching the mouth or nose.

You can pass flu to others before you become unwell, as well as while you are unwell, and in fact up to seven days after you become unwell if you are an adult and even longer if you are a child.  Furthermore, you can be infected with the virus, not have any symptoms and still spread it to others.


How well will flu vaccines work this season?

The effectiveness of the flu vaccine can vary from year-to-year among different age and risk groups and even by vaccine type.

In part, the effectiveness of the vaccine depends on the match between the vaccine virus/es used to produce the vaccine and the circulating viruses in the season.

It is not possible to predict exactly what viruses will be predominant during the upcoming season but the circulating viruses are monitored throughout the year to produce the best possible match of vaccine.

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines (called "trivalent" vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. There are also flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called "quadrivalent" vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.


Why vaccinate?

For most people, getting vaccinated  every year provides the best protection against flu throughout the flu season. It is important to get a flu vaccination every season, even if you got vaccinated the season before and the viruses in the vaccine have not changed for the current season.

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination.

The vaccine is inert and therefore cannot give you flu.


How long does a flu vaccine protect against Flu?

When most healthy people with 'regular' immune systems have a flu vaccine, their bodies produce antibodies that help with protection throughout the flu season, even as antibody levels decline over time.

Older people and others with weakened immune systems may not generate the same amount of antibodies after vaccination; furthermore, their antibody levels may drop more quickly when compared to young, healthy people.

The body's immunity to influenza viruses built up either through natural infection or vaccination declines over time. The decline in antibodies is influenced by several factors, including the antigen used in the vaccine, the age of the person being vaccinated, and the person's general health.


The Flu vaccine is not 100% guaranteed to stop you getting flu

Antibodies made in response to a vaccination with one flu virus can sometimes provide protection against different but related viruses.

A less than ideal match of vaccine to the circulating viruses in a flu season may result in reduced vaccine effectiveness, but it can still provide some protection against flu illness.

Flu vaccines contain three or four flu viruses (depending on the type of vaccine you receive) so even when there is a less than ideal match or lower effectiveness against one virus, the vaccine may protect against the other viruses.

You may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two week period that it takes the body to gain protection from the flu vaccine. This exposure time, therefore, may result in you becoming ill with flu before the vaccine has had sufficient time to protect you.  This may be why some people wonder if the vaccine has done more harm than good. 

There are incidents where people get infected with a flu virus even when the flu vaccine they have had is a perfect match.

In summary, there are a number of factors that can help or hinder the effectiveness of flu vaccines. Your health and your age can affect vaccine effectiveness and or your ability to fight off contracting flu. In broad terms, a flu vaccine works best among healthy younger adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination.

Flu vaccination is not a cure all, but it is considered the best protection against flu infection for most people.


What to do to protect yourself and your loved ones from flu this season

Have a flu vaccine and encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated, take everyday preventative measures such as staying away from sick people and wash your hands regularly to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to rest and recover as quickly as possible and to prevent spreading flu to others.

Vaccination is important for a wide range of people including:

  • those who work with the public (mainly because of repeated exposure to possible infected people)
  • children in schools (mainly because of repeated exposure to possible infected people)
  • very overweight people (more likely to have complications from flu)
  • are 65 years of age or over  (general health decline)
  • are pregnant  (could cause complications for the unborn child)
  • have certain medical conditions (more likely to have complications from flu)
  • are living in a long-stay residential care home or other long-stay care facility (because you may be more prone to catching flu from other people in the group care setting and because your immune system may be weakened)
  • if you are a carer (because you may be exposed to people with weakened immune systems and you may pass on flu if you have it - see "Flu is contagious" above)


The NHS targets key groups of susceptible people to have a flu vaccine.

Not everyone described in the categories above would necessarily contract flu but we have to deploy protective measures to avoid flu taking hold.


Flu Vaccine for children

The vaccine is a simple nasal spray which takes less than one minute to administer.  This year the flu vaccine will be offered to all children over the age of six months with a long-term health condition, all children aged two, three and four on 31 August 2016 and to children in school years one, two and three.


General prevention

For all people, lifestyle choices play an important part in our likelihood of contracting flu.  So wherever possible, we should look after our physical and mental wellbeing by incorporating physical exercise and a healthy, balanced diet into our everyday lives. See the Public Health and Wellbeing homepage about local initiatives to help you maintain good health and wellbeing. 



Preventing spread of flu to others

To avoid spreading flu, people should stay away from sick people and stay at home if sick themselves. It is important to wash hands often with soap and water or, if not available, an alcohol-based hand rub. Hygiene in the home, at work and at school is important.


In summary, to help prevent spread of flu:


  • Avoid close contact with sick people,
  • Stay at home when sick
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth if you have been infected.
  • Maintain good health habits such as cleaning surfaces regularly at home, work, school, etc, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.


Protecting staff from contracting flu

Public Health transferred from the NHS into local authorities in April 2013 under the mandate of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 giving each local authority a duty to improve the health of the people in its area through primary, secondary and tertiary prevention messages and measures.  One such primary prevention measure is to promote the national flu campaign locally and provide a flu vaccine to front-line and business critical staff within the council. 


Public Health encourages other employers to offer workplace health measures including offering relevant staff a flu vaccine.



In conclusion ...

Avoid getting flu.  The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated early in every flu season.  tells you about NHS eligibility and chemists where you can vaccinated locally.  Good general, mental and physical health are also essential protective measures.




Who To Contact

Contact details for West Berkshire's Public Health and Wellbeing Team

01635 519973