Here's the latest Argus column by chief executive of the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board Judith Paget:

THE clocks have gone back and Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night are behind us – winter is definitely starting to make its presence felt.

And for all of us who work for the NHS in Wales, winter's arrival signifies an increase in activity and in the calls on our services due to more viruses and bugs like flu circulating in local communities.

Through our Clinical Futures programme we are making changes to the way healthcare is delivered in Gwent, with a focus on bringing care closer to home.


But these changes alone will not ease the burden on our local NHS services at this time – we also need people to keep themselves as healthy as possible and to choose the right services when they are feeling unwell.

Developments in the roles of pharmacists mean they can now assess and treat a wide range of common ailments.

I would ask you to consider visiting your local pharmacist for advice about minor ailments and coughs and colds as they are an excellent first port of call.

Our Common Ailments Scheme means that your pharmacist can diagnose and treat 27 different minor ailments.

You can get free medication directly from them and you don’t need a GP appointment first.

If the pharmacist feels that you do need to see a doctor then they will advise you to see your GP.

We have also introduced a new role into GP surgeries in Gwent – Care Navigators.

These members of staff, including receptionists, have been trained to direct you to the most appropriate health professional to suit your needs. This speeds up your access to the right care and treatment, freeing up GP time to care for those who really need it.

If you are unable to visit your pharmacist and would like health advice, then you can always call 111.

This year 111 has replaced the old NHS Direct number in our health board area and also our out-of-hours GP number.

If you are feeling unwell and need urgent advice then dial this free to phone, easy-to-remember number to speak to a specially trained healthcare professional.

Winter is always an extra-busy time for the NHS – the icy conditions mean far more trips, slips and falls and winter brings cold and flu and other bugs that really impact on those with breathing problem.

The changes we are making through the Clinical Futures programme, including the opening of the The Grange University Hospital in 2021, will help to reduce the pressure on our NHS services but we also need everyone in Gwent to choose the right services for their needs to fully realise the benefits of these changes.