Staggering increase in winter deaths says Age Scotland

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A dramatic increase in people dying of flu and pneumonia last winter has alarmed charities

17th October 2018 by Sophie Bell 0 Comments

Last winter's more people died than any previous winter for 18 years, with a particuarly large increase in cases of flu an pneumonia.

People over 75s were the most likely to die over the winter months, according to new figures released by the National Records of Scotland.

The national charity for older people, Age Scotland, has described the increase as “staggering”. It is encouraging older people to reduce their risks of illness this winter by finding out what entitlements are available to keep warm in winter months and make sure they get their flu vaccines this autumn.

Over the last ten years three in four deaths during the winter months are people over 75.

Research conducted by Age Scotland found that almost six in ten single pensioners and four in ten pensioner couples in Scotland struggle to pay fuel bills – with those in rural areas most affected. This results in poorly heated homes and older people becoming more at risk of illness.

Adam Stachura, head of policy and communications for Age Scotland, said: "These figures are staggering and a real shock to the system. The large increase in deaths due to flu and pneumonia should be setting alarm bells ringing. We know that during winter months the homes of many older people are insufficiently heated, as a result of high fuel costs and poor heating systems, and can lead to a greater risk of ill health and even death.

 “This year energy companies hiked their fuel prices between four and nine percent, which could add hundreds more pounds to a person’s heating bills especially during long, cold winters like last year.

“You can protect yourself from large and unexpected winter heating bills by switching your energy tariff before the winter weather hits. It’s important to use your heating in the winter months. When temperatures drop like last winter for extended time periods – an extra blanket won’t keep you warm or well.”

Last year’s spike in winter mortality rates occurred in December 2017, and Age Scotland and other charities is urging older people to get their free flu jab early in the winter.

Joseph Carter, head of British Lung Foundation Scotland, said: “Last year 35 per cent of winter deaths occurred due to a chronic lung condition, flu or pneumonia – conditions where effective intervention at an early stage can minimise and reduce the risk of hospital admission.

“Prevention is vital in protecting the most vulnerable in our society: those with an existing lung condition, children, pregnant women and the elderly, to ensure they don’t become ill over the winter. We must make sure that those who are at greatest risk, and those who care for them, get access to the help they need, such as a flu vaccine or emergency medicine to relieve their symptoms. It could mean the difference between life and death.”

Currently, four in ten Scots entitled to pension credit do not claiming it, which could mean they are also missing out on Cold Weather Payments and Warm Home discounts.

Age Scotland has a free helpline for advice on switching energy tariffs and a benefits check on 0800 12 44 222.