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Singing Santa star attraction at Christmas lights event

Sing-along-a-Santa will be the star attraction at Marlborough's Christmas lights switch on event this year.

Father Christmas will be leading children in sing-alongs of festive favourites throughout the We Love Christmas event, organised by We Love Marlborough. The event will be held at the newly-refurbished Town Hall between 3pm and 8pm on Thursday, November 24.

The Town Hall will offer a host of seasonal attractions in the warm and dry. The popular Christmas gift art market – where artists and crafts people sell original and affordable Christmas gifts – has expanded over two floors for the first time in its three-year history.

Santa – when he isn't leading little ones in a sing-song – will be in his beautifully-decorated grotto, taking early gift orders. Hot food and drink will be served, giving parents the chance to chill out – or get warm – while children entertain themselves on the free crafts tables.

Marlborough Christmas LightsMarlborough's Christmas lights display, organised and funded by Marlborough Town Council, will be switched on at 7pm by the town's Citizen of the Year – whose identity is revealed on the night – and the winners of the children's choir competition, which will be held at neighbouring St Mary's Church from 5pm to 6.45pm.

And many of the town's shops will be keeping their doors open until 8pm, as part of the Marlborough Chamber of Commerce Late Night Shopping season, which takes place on We Love Christmas night and then every Thursday until December 22.

Louisa Davison of We Love Marlborough said: “We wanted to offer families an event that would last from school or nursery finish until after the lights are switched on. Father Christmas is really hectic from 6.45pm to 8pm, so come down early and beat the queue.”

Marlborough Town Hall in lightsPaul Shimell, president of Marlborough Chamber of Commerce, said: “We Love Christmas promises to be a fantastic platform from which to launch Christmas shopping season in Marlborough.

“Our late night shopping events give busy people the chance to shop for Christmas presents out of work hours and in a relaxed atmosphere.”

And Richard Pitts of Marlborough Town Council said: “We see the Christmas lights as a vital part of our street scene in the shortest days of the year.
"We know this event encourages people as far away as Bristol and Swindon to come to the town enjoy the festive mood and and shop until they drop in one of many restaurants and pubs. We sincerely hope all will come and enjoy the fun of the Christmas lights switch on!”

We Love Christmas is organised by We Love Marlborough, a not-for-profit organisation putting art at the heart of the town, and supported by Marlborough Chamber of Commerce and David Dudley jewellers.

For updates and event times, look out for leaflets during November or watch out for updates on Marlborough News Online.

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Care for older patients at Great Western Hospital only a “moderate” success

Despite praise from its older patients.  Swindon’s modern Great Western Hospital, which serves Marlborough, was found to be wanting when a team from the Quality Care Commission made a secret visit in April.

The inspection of 100 acute hospitals in England showed that one in five of them are breaking the law in their treatment of older people.

The Great Western is not one of them.  The commission has credited the hospital with “moderate” success and given it 10 days to respond with details of the action it will take to improve nursing in Neptune and Jupiter wards.

The Commission was looking at two elements of the care of the elderly in hospitals: “respecting and involving people who use the services” and “meeting nutritional needs.”

The report points out: “A modern concern means that people who use services are safe but are not always experiencing the outcomes relating to this essential standard and there is an impact on their health and well-being because of this.”

Detailing the inspection, the report says:  “Many of the patients on these wards were older people and we were told that some people had dementia.  On each ward we observed how patients were being cared for, talked with people, and looked at some patient records.  We spoke individually with 13 patients and six members of staff.  We met with other patients, their relatives and staff during the visit.”

“Our inspection team was joined by a practising, experienced nurse and an ‘expert by experience’ -- a person who has experience of using services, either first hand or as a carer, and who can provide the patient perspective.”

The report continues: “Patients we spoke with made some very positive comments about the staff.  They described staff as ‘very kind’, ‘lovely’ and as treating them ‘like a friend’.  We were told that staff were busy and worked hard, and some patients said that more staff were needed.”

“Patients told us that staff took an interest in how they were feeling.  However, they had not always been asked for information which would help staff to get to know them as people, with their own likes and dislikes.”

“We were told about the layout of the wards, which included a number of single rooms with en-suites, and other rooms for four patients.  Patients liked the privacy and the facilities that these areas provided.”

“However, we also met patients who said that their privacy and dignity was not being respected.  One person described themselves as a ‘trolley patient, the fifth person in a four bedded room', as they were accommodated in an extra bed.”

And it adds: “People should be treated with respect, involved in discussions about their care and treatment and able to influence how the service is run.  Overall, we found that improvements were needed for this essential standard.”

On the provision of food, the inspection team found that the hospital was meeting essential standards but again suggested improvements needed to be made.

Responding to the report on aspects of patient dignity and nutrition, a GWH spokeswoman told Marlborough News Online: “We were disappointed that on the day there were some areas of our care which the Commission felt needed to be improved and we took that feedback very seriously, as we do with all other types of feedback we receive.”

“Following the inspection, we formed an action plan to address the issues raised, which was submitted to and approved by the Commission.  Since then they have informed the Trust that they are reassured by the actions we have been taking.  This is supported by a more recent inspection by the Commission in July which showed no significant concerns.”

“We are now working to make sure the action plan is fully implemented and to ensure that wherever a patient is cared for in the Trust they receive the same high standard of care.”

“We continue to work hard to provide the best care for patients and service users and encourage feedback so that we can  always look for ways we can do things better.”

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Pedestrian sent flying by car that failed to stop at London Road zebra crossing

Police are believed to have traced a woman driver aged over 80 who failed to stop after hitting a pedestrian on the zebra crossing outside St Peter’s School, Marlborough, last Friday.

Just before 9am a woman crossing the road was sent flying into the air after being struck by a silver Volkswagen Polo car that failed to stop.

The pedestrian was treated by ambulance at the scene and then taken to the Great Western Hospital, in Swindon.  She suffered severe concussion and was discharged later that day.

The accident is the second of its kind at the London Road crossing, which is used daily by scores of children and their parents.

On the last occasion the Lollipop Lady guiding children across the road had her lollipop knocked out of her hand by a vehicle that failed to stop but was fortunately unhurt.

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Perry's porn campaign takes small step forward

ct children from internet pornography took a small step forward today when the prime minister announced that in future subscribers to four of the UK's biggest internet service providers will have to "opt in" if they want to view sexually explicit websites.

David Cameron told a meeting of Christian group the Mothers' Union at Number 10 today (Tuesday) that BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin would start limiting access to pornographic websites, unless subscribers opted to view them.

By October 2012 the four internet service providers, or ISPs, will offer all new internet customers a service called Active Choice, where subscribers must choose whether to restrict the web content that their computers can receive.

All of the companies already offer this filtering technology, but currently subscribers do not have to choose whether to install it.

The group will also sponsor a media campaign to encourage existing customers to install the technology.

The key word in the agreement is “new”. During a typical quarter, fewer than five percent of the big four's 19 million customers switch providers. Anyone who sticks with their provider, therefore, won't have to opt in to access to websites with adult content.
Commenting on the news, Claire Perry, who is leading a cross-party Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Child Protection said: “I really welcome today’s announcement as it shows the British Internet industry are finally taking seriously the problem of children accessing adult content on the Internet."

But Mrs Perry said there were three very important questions for the ISPs to answer: how the product would be rolled out to existing clients, when BT, Sky and Virgin would follow Talk Talk's lead in offering a one-click solution, and why implementation would take a year, given that the technology already exists.

In May the MO took her campaign to the London headquarters of BT, where Mediawatch UK and the charity Safermedia erected a 10 foot high message asking BT to 'Block Porn' and also handed in a letter to chief executive Ian Livingstone asking BT to make access to internet porn an opt-in option.

In August, the MP told Marlborough News Online: "Parents are understandably worried about the ease with which children can view pornographic content on the internet and this inquiry will provide the ideal platform for all interested parties to discuss how best we can protect our children online.

"This is not just about internet access in a bedroom with a PC. Families from poorer backgrounds are still able to afford mobiles, Wiis, Playstations and all these devices can access the internet via the home network.

"A default clean network level filter would ensure protection for children from all backgrounds. What’s more, of those parents who can afford to buy their children personal computers, 54 per cent use parental controls or others means for blocking or filtering websites."

She pointed out that 73 per cent of UK households now have access to the internet while 52 per cent of children say they use the internet alone in their bedrooms, thus making it difficult for parents to monitor effectively their activity.

And she warned: “Eleven per cent of children in the UK have seen sexual content on websites and 24 per cent have seen sexual content online or offline.”

A YouGov survey conducted earlier this year found that 93 percent of women and 73 percent of men believe that the easy availability of pornographic content on the internet is damaging to children.

It is estimated that around four percent of the internet consists of pornography websites, and that 13 percent of all enquiries on the most popular internet search engines are for 'erotic content' of some kind.

A Google search for “porn” will result in around 1.3 billion results. 

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Praise pours in for Marlborough’s literary festival to become a permanent event

Marlborough’s literary festival now seems destined to become a permanent major event following the overwhelming success of the latest festival – in fact only the second to be staged.

Praise has poured in for last month’s festival, the first in the country to shy away from celebrity authors and concentrate on contemporary literature, including that of home-grown authors, as well as fun events especially for children.

“It was wonderfully supported,” novelist Mavis Cheek, who created the festival, told Marlborough News Online after brushing aside customary pre-festival fears that it would be an awful flop.

“The edgier events delight their audiences, some events infuriated parts of their audiences – and why not? – and all in all the word going round the town was that it had been another great success.”

“As some wag said to me after the last event, ‘Well, you can have tomorrow off and then you must start planning next years’ festival.”

That was the same conclusion of the festival’s main sponsors Brewin Dolphin, who support six significant arts events in Wiltshire, among them the Marlborough Jazz Festival, the Marlborough Sunday concert series and The Merchant’s House.

“This year’s literary festival  was even bigger and better than last year,” said Myles Palmer (pictured), divisional director of the leading private client investment company.  “The committee does a great job in the organisation and it feels as if Marlborough should always have had a lit fest.”

Michael Pooley, proprietor of the White Horse Bookshop

Despite the recession, he added: “We will be maintaining our support for the foreseeable future.  There are no plans of scaling back our support for the local community.  We continue to want to support, as much as is possible, the community in which we work and live.”

And a congratulatory echo came too from Michael Pooley, proprietor of Marlborough’s White Horse Bookshop, directly involved in the festival for the first time this year, who announced: “The festival was a big success for us as well as the whole town.”

“There was real underlying enthusiasm for the festival.  Including children’s books, we sold not far short of 1,000, which is a lot for one weekend.  People do enjoy buying books and getting them signed by their authors as well, which is always fun.”

“Yes, it was good business and I am very grateful to be involved.”

He pointed out the same of the best attended events – more than 250 at each of them -- were those for young people, particularly Lemn Sissay at Marlborough College and Lauren Child at St John’s School.

At Marlborough town hall the shining stars were Judy Carver, daughter of Marlborough’s own Novel Prize-winning author William Golding, who has written a family memoir, Anne Seeba and Deborah Moggach.

The festival too coincided with a personal triumph for White Horse, a mainstay in Marlborough since 1948, which has been named Vintage Independent Bookshop of the Year by international publishers Random House.

“The Vintage award is in the form of a very nice £1,000, which will be divided among the staff, and extra terms for Vintage book sales for the next six months,” explained Mr Pooley, who has owned the White Horse since 1973.

Accepting the award at a champagne event in London, bookseller and buyer Liz Loikkanen, said: “It is so exciting to win…We’re lucky, we have a loyal customer base and they have stuck with us.”

“We have been in Marlborough for 60 years and we are still going strong.”

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Go online for a chat with the cops about the cuts in county policing

Wiltshire may be one of the safest counties in the country but Wiltshire Police want to hear from you about your concerns and its operational changes being introduced next week.

These follow the government’s austerity cuts, which means that the police must reduce their budget by £15 million over the next four years.

The county’s chief officers along with the chairman of Wiltshire Police Authority are staging a public online chat on Wednesday (October 5).

The live session, to run from 7pm to 8pm, will provide members of the public with an opportunity to ask questions directly to Chief Constable Brian Moore, temporary Deputy Chief Constable Patrick Geenty and WPA chairman Chris Hoare.

The public online chat is a chance for you to ask your local police how the service will be delivered successfully. Submitting a question is simple. Visit on the evening and follow the instructions.

Chief Constable Brian Moore said: “Wiltshire is one of the safest counties in the country and we aim for it to be the safest. Our purpose will continue to be to keep the people safe from harm, prevent crime, solve crime and disorder problems, investigate and bring offenders to justice.  

“We are changing the way we work and this includes the introduction of a new style of operational policing from 4 October. I would encourage everyone in Wiltshire to use this opportunity to ask us about our new way of policing and we look forward to talking to members of our local communities.”   

WPA shairman Chris Hoare pointed out: “This is the second public online chat Wiltshire Police will host and it is a good way to engage directly with our public.  Wiltshire residents told us what they want from their police service in a public survey run by the WPA earlier this year.

“We are reflecting this in the changes being made in Wiltshire Police. It is a continuous process and we need feedback from events like this to ensure that we deliver the service our communities expect.

As this is a live online session, chief officers and the Police Authority chairman will endeavour to answer as many questions as possible. However, it may not be possible to answer all questions within the live hour.

So, on Monday 10 October, we will post answers to those questions not answered during the live hour on the Wiltshire Police website.

For more information, visit

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Feudal knight Tory candidate romps home in Marlborough town council by-election

Tory candidate Noel  Barrett-Morton convincingly won yesterday’s West Ward by-election for a vacant seat on Marlborough town council.

The controversial City businessman, who was revealed during the campaign not to be a knight of the realm but to hold only an Irish feudal title, defeated IT expert Tim Reenan by 225 votes in a low poll (turnout:  24.99%).

Mr Barrett-Morton, 67, who lives in Cromwell Court, in Marlborough’s High Street, polled 498 votes while Mr Reenan, 49, polled 273, some 403 of the votes being posted in advance.

“Congratulations to Noel on being elected and for his kind words after the count,” Mr Reenan told Marlborough News Online. “I am obviously disappointed to come second, but for my first venture into public life I am pretty pleased with the result.”

“It was always going to be a tough ask orchestrating a DIY campaign against the ‘machine’ of a main political party.   I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the residents who took the time to come out and vote for me yesterday -- I'm sorry we didn't make it this time around.”

“I would also like to thank my lovely wife Jacky for diligently supporting me over the past four weeks or so and for bravely treading the streets with me, although not always in the most appropriate footware.”

The by-election showed little difference, certainly no significant political swing, from the by-election last year when Martin Houlden (Cons) polled 64.5 per cent on a 29.7 per cent turnout and his LibDem opponent mustered 34.4 per cent of the vote.

Yesterday’s by-election gave the Tories 64.1 per cent of the vote on a 24.99 per cent turnout with the Independent candidate claiming 35.1 per cent of the vote.

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You must do your bit to save precious water urges new River Kennet campaign

Stung by accurate -- and inaccurate -- criticism of the way it raids the River Kennet to benefit customers elsewhere, Thames Water has taken a new positive direction with a campaign to encourage everyone to save water.

With one particular section of the Kennet running dry for the first time for decades, Thames Water is now offering customers in the Marlborough and Hungerford area free water-saving gadgets for taps, showers and toilets that could help cut utility bills by up to £75 a year.

And in a bid to encourage people to value this increasingly precious resource and use less of it without making drastic changes to their lifestyles, Thames Water has launched Waterwisely,, which it describes as the world’s first online water-efficient town.

Customers can log on to Waterwisely to calculate their water use and get a report for their household together with a series of tips for reduce water use – and bills – and make pledges to do so which they can share with friends on Facebook.

People can order a series of free water-saving gadgets from Waterwisely, including tap aerators and water-efficient shower heads, hose pipe triggers, devices to reduce the water used flushing toilets and shower timers, challenging people to take showers of four minutes of or less.

Water for the area comes from underground bore holes feeding the rare River Kennet chalk stream, putting serious strain on the wildlife habitats the river supports, increasingly in the Marlborough area.

Charlotte Hitchmough (pictured), director of Action for the River Kennet (ARK),  is giving her support to Thames.

“There simply is no excuse not to take advantage of Waterwisely's offer of water-saving gadgets -- they are completely free and could reduce your utility bills by up to £75 a year,” she said.

“By using less water each of us can reduce the strain on the River Kennet.  It's a no-brainer.  ARK will continue to put pressure on all parties to make sure the amount of water going to Swindon is drastically reduced, and in the mean time we can all value every drop of water we use in the Kennet valley.''

Dr Rose Timlett, WWF-UK freshwater programme manager, explained: "This year, low rainfall coupled with abstraction to supply homes in Marlborough, Hungerford and Swindon have taken their toll on the River Kennet.  With low flow levels along the river, and some stretches having dried up completely, the recovery of some rivers species including voles and otters could be threatened.”

"The good news is that we can band together to reduce the amount of water we use around the home, and so help to reduce the amount of water that needs to be taken from this river.”

“Each of us uses around 160 litres of water a day and the Government is aiming to get this down to 130.  It is estimated that nearly a third of the water we use is unnecessary - so taking up the offer of free water-efficient kit and trying to reduce the amount we use can make a big difference without any big investments or sacrifice from home owners."

Richard Aylard, Thames Water's sustainability director, added: "We don't take water from rivers for fun, or for any other reason than because our customers need it.  If they use less, then we will take less.”

“Water-efficiency is not just our responsibility.  It is a team effort in which we, our regulators and our customers all have a part to play.”

Meanwhile Thames Water continues to work on a long-term solution to reduce the amount we transfer to south Swindon from our bore hole at nearby Axford.  Of the 10 million litres a day on average that the company takes from the aquifer under Axford, six  to seven million litres is piped 15 miles north to Swindon, with the rest supplying customers locally.

While the water used locally is returned to the Kennet following treatment at sewage works in the area, the water going to Swindon, once used, is not fed back to the Kennet but rather to the River Ray, a tributary of the Thames.

This means every day the Kennet is losing up to seven million litres, which has the potential to put a lot of strain on the wildlife habitats that the river supports.

That is why positive action is now being taken, though the real answer lies in a £10 million pipeline yet to be built to ensure that the Kennet is not pumped dry.

In order to protect the chalk stream environment, the Environment Agency has said previously that it plans to ask Thames Water to reduce the water it sends to Swindon from Axford by 3million litres per day.

The company is working with the EA on a plan for a £10m pipeline to take water from the River Thames at Farmoor Reservoir, halving Swindon’s reliance on the Kennet.

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Will the House of Lords take an axe or a scalpel to the Health and Social Care Bill?

Tomorrow (Tuesday, October 11) the coalition government’s Health and Social Care Bill for its major reorganisation of the NHS, reaches the House of Lords.   And there is great speculation that their Lordships may insist on some basic alterations to Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley’s plans.

Well before Lansley’s policy even became a Bill, changes were set in motion.  Locally they are already well underway – but there’s a certain anxiety about the “continuously changing” guidance from Whitehall.

The North and East Wiltshire (NEW) clinical commissioning group (CCG) – which will cover the Marlborough area, taking over the responsibilities of NHS Wiltshire (the PCT)  – has been re-writing its business plan after its first version was turned down by the Primary Care Trust and the Strategic Health Authority.  The GP leading NEW’s application, Dr Jonathan Rayner, told Marlborough News Online that its interim board have now re-submitted their plan and it comes up for approval this week.

The other two Wiltshire CCGs (south Wiltshire – known as Sarum – and west Wiltshire – known as WWKYD) have had their business plans accepted and are already working with the PCT.

There will be another audit of Wiltshire’s CCGs at the end of this month to make sure they are sufficiently big and robust to be sustainable.  In September the Department of Health issued a ‘ready reckoner’ to flush out CCGs that could not afford the necessary support systems to take over the PCT’s role of commissioning primary health care services.

So far NEW has appointed a part-time financial manager and will shortly be appointing a manager for the everyday running of the CCG.

The burden of work the new commissioning arrangements will place on local GPs is still to be finalised – or realised.  Dr Rayner, who works at the Ramsbury and Wanborough medical practices, told Marlborough News Online that he’s limiting his administrative work “to a maximum of one day a week – I don’t want to do more than that – if it’s more than that, we’d have to do something different.”

This illustrates one of the problems with the government’s plans.  They want to put more money into frontline services as opposed to back-room office ‘bureaucrats’, but they then take front line doctors out of their surgeries to run the commissioning groups and race round the county attending meetings.

The critics say that the CCGs may decide to employ outside agencies to run their commissioning for them – creating mini-PCTs.  One of the LibDems demands when the coalition’s Bill was taken off Parliament’s agenda for a re-think – the so-called ‘pause’ – was that CCGs should not outsource commissioning to outside agencies.

If a CCG is deemed to be too small or its doctors will not devote enough of their time to commissioning, then some CCGs may be told to merge – in the process losing most of the local control that Mr Lansley’s White Paper promised.

There’s a lot of learning to be done.  Both the PCT and the strategic authority have been offering training sessions for the GPs.  And two of NHS Wiltshire’s experienced non-executive directors are being seconded to work alongside each of the three CCGs.

The CCGs are even being offered free media training so they can cope with the forensic questioning of the local media.

So far NEW has an interim board.  Soon NEW will have to appoint its non-GP members (probably a consultant and a nurse) and patient representatives.   But the precise rules on who is eligible for these roles have not yet been finalised in Whitehall.  NEW’s chairman, Simon Burrell (of Corsham) will probably present the CCG on Wiltshire Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board which will have a new strategic and oversight role.

The elephant in Mr Lansley’s office is a large one: if – and it’s a very big if – the Lords killed the Bill, how would the NHS continue now that so much change has been imposed before the Bill becomes law.  Watch this space…

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Government minister Richard Benyon sees the Kennet’s drought disaster for himself

Rivers minister Richard Benyon saw for himself the sad state of dried out sections of the River Kennet at Marlborough on Friday, when he was urged to introduce new regulations on water extraction.

The Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, who is also Tory MP for nearby Newbury, had an on the spot meeting with Charlotte Hitchmough, director of Action for the River Kennet (ARK) and its chairman, Geoffrey Findlay.

They were joined by another campaigner, Tom le Quesne, from the UK branch of the World Wildlife Fund.

And also present to discuss the low flows in the Kennet, one of the worst since 1976, which has killed off fish and devastated the natural environment, was Marlborough MP Claire Perry.

She has supported ARK in its fight over the over-abstraction by Thames Water of millions of gallons of water from the Kennet, which is mainly siphoned off at Axford for the benefit of Swindon residents, but not returned to the river.

And, combined with the current heat wave, that is causing added significant drought problems on the river, but this time to its upper reaches, which provides water for Marlborough and neighbouring villages.

Mrs Perry made it clear to the minister that her in-box was full of letters expressing dismay at the poor state of the upper Kennet.  And she offered such help as she could give to support ARK in its campaign to reduce water abstraction.

As he stood on Fox’s bridge overlooking a dried out section of the river, Mr Benyon agreed that the state of the Kennet, one of England’s rare chalk streams, was “very worrying”.

The meeting was an opportunity to discuss how government policy can be altered to encourage water companies to select less vulnerable sources of water, and how water customers can be encouraged to value every drop.

Geoffrey Findlay, ARK's chairman told Marlborough News Online:  “We were able to discuss in some detail the problems the river Kennet is facing and how they might be solved.  I think we made some good progress.  The minister was generous with his time, and is clearly engaged with the issue of water abstraction.”

ARK told the minister that they welcomed Thames Water's aspiration to reduce reliance on the Kennet aquifer to supply water but would like a clear timetable for action, particularly in relation to the Axford borehole.

In addition ARK would like to see a regulatory system which encouraged water companies to protect fragile water resources.

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At risk of getting seasonal flu? Then get your flu jab soon

There’s to be no national advertisement campaign to persuade people to get themselves vaccinated against seasonal flu.  This year it’s up to you and your doctor’s surgery to make sure you’re not at risk from what can for some people become a serious illness - especially triggering complications in existing conditions.

Last year six hundred and two people died in the UK from seasonal flu – and the take up for vaccinations was lower than expected.  This year NHS Wiltshire and the county’s GPs have launched a “Flu vaccination passport” to remind those most at risk to get their free protection against this highly infectious illness.

There’s a passport for each of three main ‘at risk’ categories: people over sixty-five, people with a serious medical condition and pregnant women.

Maggie Rae, Wiltshire’s director of public health and public protection: “If someone is at risk of complications from flu, it’s really important they have their annual flu jab…We know how busy people are – the passport will help act as a reminder to someone to call their GP and arrange to receive this valuable protection against flu.”

Marlborough Medical Practice’s flu jab sessions for October have all been booked up.  They’re arranging more sessions for November – so call soon to book in.

Useful information about flu from Wiltshire NHS:
Get the jab
The best time of the year to get a flu vaccination is now - the autumn. It's free and it's effective against the latest flu virus strains.
Even if someone has already had a flu jab in previous years, they need another one this year to keep immunity up to date. The flu jab may only protect someone for a year, because the viruses that cause flu are always changing. This year's seasonal flu vaccination also includes a vaccine to protect against swine flu.
See your GP about the flu jab if you're 65 or over, or if you have any of the following problems (however old you are):
• a serious heart complaint
• a chest complaint or breathing difficulties, including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema
• serious kidney disease
• diabetes
• lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroid medication or cancer treatment
• if you have a problem with your spleen or you have had your spleen removed
• if you have ever had a stoke
Your GP may advise you to have a flu jab if you have serious liver disease, multiple sclerosis (MS)   or some other diseases of the nervous system.
If you think you may need a flu vaccination, check with your GP, practice nurse or your local pharmacist. If a nurse visits you regularly, ask about getting your flu vaccination. Most GP surgeries arrange vaccination sessions in the autumn.
Pregnant women
Pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy should have the seasonal flu jab. That's because pregnant women are more prone to complications from flu that can cause serious illness for both mother and baby.
If you are pregnant and catch flu, talk to your GP urgently as you may need treatment with antiviral medicine.
The pneumo jab
When you see your GP for a seasonal flu jab, ask whether you also need the ‘pneumo jab’ to protect you against some forms of pneumococcal infection. It's available free on the NHS to everyone aged 65 or over, and for younger people with some serious medical conditions.
Kids and carers
If you're the parent of a child (over the age of six months) who has a long-term condition such as a serious respiratory or neurological condition, they should have a flu jab. Speak to your GP about your child having a flu vaccination. Your child's condition may get worse if they catch flu.
If you're the carer of an elderly or disabled person, make sure they've had their flu jab. As a carer, you could be eligible for a flu jab too. Ask your GP for advice, or go to Carers Direct for information about Flu jabs for carers.
How effective is it?
No vaccine is 100% effective, however, people who have had the flu jab are far less likely to get flu. If you do get flu despite having the jab, it will probably be milder than if you haven't been vaccinated.
The flu jab doesn't cause flu as it doesn't contain live viruses. However, you may experience side effects after having the jab, such as a temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards. Your arm may feel sore at the site where you were injected. More severe reactions are rare.
The flu vaccine only protects against flu, but not other illnesses caused by other viruses, such as the common cold.
Speak to your GP, practice nurse or pharmacist if you have any further questions.

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