The shame of excess winter deaths

This morning the Office for National Statistics announced that there were 31,100 excess winter deaths last winter.

To say this is a national shame (as we have done) is both a cliché and also absolutely true.

Excess winter deaths – or the additional deaths during the winter months when compared to the rest of the year – are entirely preventable.

We know this because other countries with much harsher winters – such as the Scandinavian countries – have significantly fewer excess winter deaths.440x210_Snow-in-Shepton-Mal

Yet in the UK the numbers remain stubbornly high. Today’s figures show a 29% rise on the previous year and represent a four year high.

We all know that last winter was cold and long, but the figures are still unacceptable. That older people’s lives are still at the mercy of the weather in the twenty-first century is something we should rightly be ashamed of. Continue reading “The shame of excess winter deaths”

Excess Winter Deaths

In the winter of 2011/12, there were 24,000 Excess Winter Deaths in England and Wales (of which 21,700 were people over 65). By way of comparison, this shocking figure dwarfs the 1,715 people killed on roads in England and Wales in 2011.

True, the figures show a fall on last year, which in turn was a fall on the gristly winter of 2009/10. In fact, amongst the very vulnerable group of older people over 75, there was actually an increase.   But the figures go up and down each year, and it is too early to see long term trends. They are simply far too high to feel anything but shame for this country’s deplorable record on supporting its older citizens to cope with the cold.178x178_spread_the_warmth

The problem of coping with the cold is primarily an issue of housing. Broadly speaking, the older the house the more likely it is to be thermally inefficient, and the more expensive it will be to keep adequately warm.   The proportion of our housing stock built before 1919 is 22%:  a further 17% was built between 1919 and 1944. The work on insulating these homes and equipping them with modern, energy efficient heating systems has been very slow, and we have watched the numbers in fuel poverty rising remorselessly over the last eight years as energy prices have spiralled upwards. Continue reading “Excess Winter Deaths”

The Cost of Cold

“When I was young, being cold wasn’t an issue, it never occurred to me it could be a problem. But as I’ve got older staying warm has become my priority. Being older, and less active, it’s so hard to ward off the cold.” Dreda, 94

Winter brings many challenges for us as we get older – dark days mean people get out less, and ice and snow can increase the fear and risk of falling. But research shows that cold is the biggest killer.

Today, Age UK is releasing a new report ‘The Cost of Cold’. It highlights the fact that each winter there are around 27,000 additional deaths in England and Wales, the vast majority among older people.

For each death, there are many more people who become seriously ill, needing hospitalisation in the short term and possibly social care in the longer term. Age UK’s new analysis finds that the cost to the NHS in England from cold homes alone is likely to be around £1.36 billion a year.

Every death or serious illness is a personal tragedy for the individual and family involved – and these deaths are largely preventable. Other colder countries such as Finland have significantly lower death rates, due to better insulated homes and greater awareness of the need to keep warm.

Through our Spread the Warmth campaign, we are highlighting simple steps that older people can take to keep warm and protect their own health, such as keeping their bedroom windows closed at night, or covering their face and hands when out in the cold. Thanks to our partnership with the Met Office we are able to pass on the Cold Weather alerts to older people via our local Age UK partners throughout the winter. Continue reading “The Cost of Cold”

Guest Blog – Cold Weather Alerts 2012

This year as part of our Spread the Warmth campaign we are working with the Met Office, as part of the national Cold Weather Plan, to provide targeted information to the older people who are most at risk when a cold snap is imminent. This guest blog from the Met office sets out how the Cold Weather Plan will work:

Although winter weather and snow can be fun, they are also associated with an increase in illnesses and injuries. Severe cold weather can be dangerous for vulnerable groups such as older people and those with serious illnesses. Older people are particularly at risk as they do not feel the cold until their body temperature falls. With this in mind, the Met Office is working in partnership with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency again this year to provide the Cold Weather Alerts that inform the Cold Weather Plan for England.

Our Cold Weather Alert service operates in England from 1 November to 31
March every year. Met Office Cold Weather Alerts are sent to NHS Trusts in England, and Age UK centres, to ensure that staff and resources are ready for any cold weather periods and those who are more vulnerable to cold weather conditions are informed / made aware and prepared. Cold Weather Alerts are also issued on our website, via weather forecasts on TV and radio and also via our Twitter feed.

Continue reading “Guest Blog – Cold Weather Alerts 2012”