Government ‘complacent’ on winter deaths, claims MP

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The Government has been accused of complacency in its approach to reducing the number of avoidable deaths in winter, after it emerged it has not updated its prevention plan since last year.

The Department of Health has published an updated Cold Weather Plan every year since 2011, outlining the steps that various public bodies are taking to minimise health risks to elderly and vulnerable groups.

But in response to questioning by the Labour MP Dan Jarvis, Ministers have confirmed the 2015 plan will remain in force “until further notice”.

This has drawn fierce criticism from the Barnsley Central MP, who claims the move “demonstrates a complacency at the heart of government”.

“Over the last five years, over 152,000 people have lost their lives in Britain due to the cold,” he said.

“When you begin to look into why more people die each winter it quickly becomes clear that many of these deaths are entirely avoidable.

“The Government needs to take responsibility for improving the heating, housing and health of the most vulnerable in society.

“Their annual Cold Weather Plan should be just that – a new strategy published every year that builds on the learning from previous years and effectively addresses the complex causes of excess winter deaths.”

According to the latest figures, there were 24,300 avoidable deaths in the winter of 2014-15 – 15 per cent more than in non-winter months.

These high mortality rates are typically blamed on a combination of cold weather and poor housing and heating conditions, that leave people more vulnerable to illnesses like flu, as well as stroke and heart attack.

In 2011, the Government responded to the challenge with the publication of its first an annual Cold Weather Plan. Over the years, this has been updated to reflect the latest NICE guidance and new advice on flu vaccinations and fuel poverty.

Responding to Mr Jarvis’ comments a DoH spokesman said: “Extensive work goes into planning for winter with NHS England and Public Health England every year.”