Excess winter deaths rose by nearly a fifth 2019-20

The number of winter deaths rose nearly 20% in 2019-20 compared to the previous winter, new figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there were an estimated 28,300 winter deaths in England and Wales during the winter of 2019-20.

This was 19.6% higher than the 23,670 in winter 2018-19, but still lower than the 49,410 in winter 2017-18.

Excessive winter deaths compare the number of deaths in December through March to the average number of deaths in the preceding August through November and the following April through July.

The National Energy Action charity said around 8,500 of the deaths in the winter of 2019-20 were from cold houses and warned that the coming winter could get worse due to the effects of the coronavirus.

The managing director, Adam Scorer, said: “In our last“ normal ”winter 8,500 people were killed in cold houses.

“Low incomes, high energy bills, and poor heating and insulation left them in conditions that weren’t suitable for surviving the cold weather.

“This winter, the effects of Covid-19 will make this deadly cocktail many times worse.

“Millions of low-income households will be spending more time at home making impossible choices.

“Are they going to keep themselves and their families warm and likely to run into debt, or will they ration their heating and indulge in living in a dangerously cold house that is at greater risk for health conditions post Covid-19?”

The charity called for three measures to help people living in fuel poverty this winter, including maintaining and strengthening the universal credit increase, stopping enforcement efforts and finding new ways to help people with debt.

For the winter of 2019-20, the ONS stated that it had excluded deaths in which the coronavirus was mentioned in the death certificate from the main figures in order to improve the “comparability of the measures taken this winter with previous years”.

Including Covid-19 deaths, there were an estimated 8,700 winter deaths in the 2019-20 season – the lowest number since the 1950-51 data series began.

However, the ONS said, “The low estimate can be explained by comparing it to the large number of Covid-19 deaths, which occurred mainly in the non-winter months of April through July, rather than an exceptionally low number of winter deaths.”

The new data, released on Friday, also showed that respiratory disease continued to be the leading cause of excessive winter deaths over the 2019-20 period.

Respiratory disease accounted for 39.6% of all excessive winter deaths in England and 40.0% in Wales, the ONS added.

Emma Rubach, Head of Health Advisory Services at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “Today’s numbers are a tragic reminder that the colder months can be deadly for people with respiratory problems, even without the threat of Covid-19.

“This winter, when Covid-19 is also circulating, it is important that people with lung diseases do everything possible to keep themselves healthy.”

England had an estimated 26,500 winter deaths in 2019-20, of which 50.2% were men and 49.4% were women, according to the ONS.

There were an estimated 2,000 winter deaths in Wales over the 2019-20 period, evenly divided between men and women.

Wales had the highest percentage of additional deaths in the winter of 2019-20 at 19.2%, followed by the North West at 19.0% and London at 18.6%.

The mortality index in these areas was “statistically significantly” higher than the UK average of 16.8%, according to the ONS.

In comparison, Yorkshire and Humber with 15.7%, the east of England with 15.6%, the south-west with 15.2% and the north-east with 13.8% are statistically significantly lower.

The Winter Excess Mortality Index is calculated to allow comparisons between sexes, ages, and regions, and shows the percentage of additional deaths that occurred between December and March.

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