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NHS 'friends' can help older people
Joanna Lumley was the first to sign an online pledge to become a "Winter Friend" as part of an NHS campaign
Health officials are calling for an army of good samaritans to care for the nation's elderly this winter.
NHS England wants 100,000 people to sign a pledge saying they will look in on an elderly friend or neighbour over the coming months.
The first to become a "Winter Friend" and sign the online pledge, which reads "I will take time out this winter to look in on an elderly friend or neighbour to make sure they are warm and coping well", was actress Joanna Lumley.
She said: "A little help really does go a long way. You will also find, I'm sure, that giving a bit of your time in this way is hugely rewarding. Older people can be physically frail but they have a lifetime's wisdom and experience to share.
"That's why I'm proud to lend my support to the NHS Winter Friends Pledge. Please join me and together we can make sure this winter is a wonderful winter for everyone."
Former Olympic champion Sally Gunnell, actor Sir Tony Robinson and rapper Plan B are also backing the initiative, an NHS England spokesman said.
The news comes as figures show the number of deaths linked to the cold weather soared by almost a third last winter.
"Excess winter deaths" in England and Wales rose by 29% compared with the previous year, the Office for National Statistics said.
Pensioners were worse affected by the 31,000 additional deaths, with over-75s accounting for 25,600.
NHS England said more than half of over-75s live alone while five million people say television is their main form of company.
Professor Mike Morgan, national clinical director for respiratory health, said: "My message to the public is simple: look after yourself this winter. If you know someone who is frail or elderly, or has an existing health problem and they are feeling unwell, encourage them to seek early advice, go to their local pharmacy or GP before one problem leads to another and they end up in hospital."
:: People can sign up to the electronic pledge on the NHS Choices website nhs.uk/WinterFriends.