The Office of National Statistics has published a report that claims there were an estimated 25,400 additional deaths in England and Wales last winter – 30 per cent less than the previous year. The findings refer to “excess winter mortality”, which is the term used by the Office of National Statistics to describe deaths directly caused by the wintry conditions.
Last winter, Britain experienced its coldest weather in 14 years; ice, snow and bitterly cold temperatures wreaked havoc across the nation. Although roads were affected the most, the nation’s elderly population was also put at risk by the cold weather. Set against the backdrop of fuel poverty, which describes any household that spends 10 per cent or more of its total income on central heating bills, Britain’s elderly are particularly vulnerable to dips in temperature, as evidenced by the estimated 25,400 additional deaths last winter.
The apparent decline in excess winter mortality ought not to be seen as a victory for the Government’s winter fuel bill allowance, however, as it is predicted that many deaths were averted by the absence of a seasonal flu outbreak. Nevertheless, as cold weather returned to Britain this week with snow showers across Scotland and the North East of England, the plight of thousands of elderly residents should not be ignored.
Domestic boilers must be checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer at least once a year and central heating systems ought to be checked regularly for leaks, pressure drops and other such problems. Help should be provided to the elderly during this difficult period – a sentiment that was echoed by Public Health Minister Anne Milton, who said: “We all have a role to play in remembering the needs of friends, relatives and neighbours who could be at risk especially at this time of year.”
Excess winter mortality rarely presents direct cases of hypothermia; in fact, the cold weather often claims lives after supporting the conditions necessary for outbreaks of flu, heart attacks, strokes and so on.
Ensuring that central heating systems are regularly maintained can literally make the difference between life and death in some elderly households.