The cold weather death toll this winter is expected to top 40,000, the highest number for 15 years. The figures were described as a “tragedy for the elderly” by campaigners who warned that not enough was being done to protect pensioners from unnecessary deaths in cold weather. Age UK has warned that one person could die every seven minutes this winter and called on the government to improve energy efficiency in a bid to end fuel poverty. Almost one million older people living in fuel poverty, many simply cannot afford to heat their homes to a temperature high enough to keep warm and well.
Malcolm Booth, chief executive of the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners, said: “Excess winter deaths look like rising above the exceptional 2008-09 total and potentially reaching above 40,000 - and that is a disaster for the elderly in Britain. Winter deaths are a tragedy for families of those affected but it appears the underlying causes of these deaths have still not been properly addressed.”
From the beginning of December until January 16, there were 8,800 more deaths than average of 25,000, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The rate soared by 33 per cent in the week up until January 16, when there were almost 15,000 deaths, as the bitter cold took hold. An additional 3,000 deaths are expected this week as temperatures plunge to their coldest of the winter so far.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Department of Health’s chief medical officer, said severe weather could “substantially add to the average winter death toll.” She wrote in Public Health England’s Cold Weather Plan for England 2014-15: “Excess deaths are not just deaths of those who would have died anyway in the next few weeks or months due to illness or old age. There is strong evidence some of these deaths are indeed “extra” and are related to cold temperatures, living in cold homes as well as infectious diseases such as influenza.”