Shock over toll of winter deaths in Yorkshire

Ros Altmann

Ros Altmann

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SOME 2,400 deaths were linked to cold weather in Yorkshire last winter, “shocking” new figures have revealed.

Nationally there were 24,000 “excess winter deaths” according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In Yorkshire the level of deaths over the winter of 2011-12 was 15.1 per cent higher than during the rest of this year.

For the first time the ONS data also includes a breakdown of winter deaths by council area across the country for the previous year, 2010-11.

This reveals that Ryedale had the highest level of excess winter deaths in the region. Winter deaths in the area were 34.1 per cent higher than in the rest of the year. Hull’s figure was the second highest in the region at 23.1 per cent followed by York at 22.5 per cent.

The figures reveal the increase in the number of deaths between December and March compared with an average figure for the rest of the year.

The aim is show how many extra deaths took place in the winter months above what would be expected in a three-month period outside of winter. Nationally almost 20,000 of the “excess winter deaths” were among people over the age of 75.

The overall figure for 2011-12 was down on the previous winter when there were an estimated 26,800 excess deaths in England and Wales. There were more cold weather-related deaths in women than men. The ONS said excess winter mortality for 2011-12 was highest in London. In the previous winter it was highest in Wales.

The ONS said mortality peaked in February, which is likely to be related to bouts of flu and cold temperatures.

British Heart Foundation senior cardiac nurse Ellen Mason said: “Frost, ice and snow may look picture-perfect but it doesn’t paint such a pretty picture for the health of heart patients.

“During the winter months, we see an increase in the number of deaths of people with heart disease, so it’s imperative that people wrap up warm or stay indoors when the weather is bitterly cold.

“Your blood pressure and your heart rate can increase as your body tries to keep the heat in. If you have underlying heart disease, your risk of a heart attack can also rise. So give your heart a helping hand with lots of warm clothes and a heated house.”

A Friends of the Earth spokesman said: “It is a national disgrace that millions of our homes are so poorly insulated that people living in them struggle with their energy bills. Living in a cold home has a dreadful impact on our health – and tragically thousands of older people die every year as a result.”

Saga’s director-general, Dr Ros Altmann, said: “The figures from ONS show that 24,000 pensioners died of cold last winter in the UK.

“While this is a welcome reduction from over 26,000 the previous year, this shocking statistic shows that much more needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable in society over the coldest months of the year.

“In a recent survey of some 8,500 over-50s, 58 per cent were already worrying about the costs of heating their homes this winter and more than a third were already struggling with heating bills. Energy prices are already much higher than last winter and they are predicted to rise further.”

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