Thousands of elderly dying over winter

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis MP.
Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis MP.
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THE BRITISH Government needs to copy the Scandinavian strategy for dealing with cold weather to avoid needless winter deaths, MP Dan Jarvis has said.

The Labour politician said 117,000 people have died unnecessarily because of the cold in the past four years – 43,000 in the winter of 2014/15 alone.

Speaking during a debate in the House of Commons, he said: “It is simply unacceptable that each year tens of thousands of people are dying unnecessarily.

“I am calling today for the government to bring forward a national strategy for reducing excess winter deaths.”

“The majority of those dying are elderly. We know the demographic group most affected by excess winter deaths is women aged over 85.

“Yet we also know from the evidence across Europe that more people are dying unnecessarily than they should be.”

He told MPs that Scandinavian countries including Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden all have significantly lower rates of excess winter deaths than the UK – despite all of those countries being considerably colder.

One of the reasons for this is that Scandinavian countries prepare themselves much better, he said.

He claims that at present, the British Government has no national plan to reduce the number of excess winter deaths.

Instead it is often left to local authorities to coordinate their own efforts, which he believes leads to a “patchwork approach”.

The excess winter mortality measure provided by the Office for National Statistics compares the number of deaths in December to March with those in the rest of the year. An estimated 43,900 excess winter deaths occurred in England and Wales in 2014/15; the highest number since 1999/00.

That means around 27 per cent more people died in the winter months compared with the non-winter months.

The Yorkshire Post reported in January how the figures for the Yorkshire and Humberside region have more than doubled, rising from 1,810 in 2013/14 to 4,100 in 2014/15.

A Department of Health spokesperson said at the time that the figures were a “crude estimate”.

They said for the winter of 2015/16 that hospitals planned for winter earlier than ever and were performing well.

Mr Jarvis has written to the Prime Minister formally asking him to introduce a national strategy to reduce excess winter deaths.

He has also launched a petition on the Parliament petitions website to generate public support for a national strategy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health Jane Ellison, said winter deaths were a matter of concern and would give the issue more thought.

On the spike in deaths in 2014/15 she said that period had a strain of flu, AH3N2, to which older people were particularly vulnerable.

She said: “The impact of the 2014-15 strain on older people unfortunately resulted in a large number of flu outbreaks in care homes, and higher than expected numbers of admissions to hospital and intensive care for flu. Cold snaps and other respiratory infections may also have contributed to an increase in excess mortality. The situation was not unique to the UK; 14 other European countries also reported an increase in excess mortality due to the same circulating strain of flu.”