Last reviewed 25 October 2013

Public Health England (PHE) has published a Cold Weather Plan for England for 2013, which aims to prevent avoidable harm to health by alerting people to the negative health effects of cold weather and helping them to prepare and respond appropriately.

Cold Weather Plan for England 2013: Protecting Health and Reducing Harm from Cold Weather was developed in partnership with NHS England, the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Met Office, and recommends a series of steps to be taken throughout the year to reduce the risks to health from cold weather for the NHS, local authorities, social care, and other public agencies; professionals working with people at risk; and individuals, local communities and voluntary groups.

The plan continues to be underpinned by a system of cold weather alerts, developed with the Met Office, from 1 November 2013 to 31 March 2014.

A series of “Action Cards for Cold Weather Alert Service” have been produced to inform the different organisations, including front-line health and social care staff, how to respond accordingly.

The cards list actions to be taken at:

  • Level 0 for long-term planning, which applies all year

  • Level 1 for winter preparedness during 1 November to 31 March

  • Level 2 for a severe winter weather forecast with a mean temperature of 2°C and/or widespread ice and heavy snow are predicted within 48 hours with 60% confidence

  • Level 3 for a response to severe winter weather with a mean temperature of 2°C or less and/or widespread ice and heavy snow.

There is also a Level 4 for a major incident emergency response, which is declared by central government in the event of severe or prolonged cold weather affecting sectors other than health.

In a letter to local authorities and clinical commissioning groups, the Government has outlined the key changes in the plan for 2013, which include updated responsibilities and actions for healthcare organisations, local authorities and professionals following the changes made to health and social care as of 1 April 2013. It also emphasises a clearer distinction between the health effects and interventions for cold temperatures, and those for snow and ice, and the importance of linking action to the Public Health Outcomes Framework and a longer-term strategic approach by health and wellbeing boards and commissioners.