Last winter had lowest rate of excess deaths since records began

ONS figures show that although there was improvement from 2012/13, vulnerable people are still more likely to die in the winter.

ONS figures show that although there was improvement from 2012/13, vulnerable people are still more likely to die in the winter

Today the Office for National Statistics has released figures for the number of excess winter deaths that occurred in England and Wales last winter.

Like many countries, England and Wales see an increased number of deaths in the winter months. Above average mortality rates typically occur between December and March.

Today’s figures show that in 2013/14, there was the lowest rate of excess winter mortality (EWM) since 1950/51, when records began.

Still, the figure is at 18,200, meaning that 11.6 per cent more people died in the winter months than the summer months of last year.

As in previous years, excess winter deaths are seen more in females than in males. So while male EWM decreased from 13,040 to 7,900, female deaths fell from 18,240 to 10,300 between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

The majority of the deaths were among people aged 75 and over. 14,000 people in this age group died last winter, compared to 4,000 people under 75.

There were also regional variations; the EWM index was highest in the West Midlands (13.7 per cent) and the North West (13.2 per cent) and lowest in the North East (9.8 per cent). However the ONS say that regional variations are not consistent from year to year, and that local authorities move up and down the index.

The causes of EWM are varied and complex. Previous research has shown that excess winter deaths occur far more in countries with milder winters, like Spain and Portugal, than in Scandinavian countries where winters are harsher.

This suggests a lack of preparation and community support for cold months in warmer countries.

People in milder climates also tend to live in homes with poorer thermal efficiency. Research has shown that low indoor temperatures are associated with deaths from cardiovascular diseases.

This is why fuel poverty continues to be such a troubling issue, as there is a direct correlation between people being unable to heat their homes and increased incidence of certain diseases.

ONS’ study states that:

“Although EWM is associated with low temperatures, conditions directly relating to cold, such as hypothermia, are not the main cause of EWM.

“The majority of additional winter deaths are caused by cerebrovascular diseases, ischaemic heart disease and respiratory diseases”.

Influenza is also recognised to be connected to EWM. 1999/2000 had high levels of EWM which coincided with the last influenza epidemic.

The ONS believe that the low levels of EWM last winter may be due to the circulation of a subtype of the influenza which predominantly affects young adults rather than the more vulnerable elderly.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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