Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Thursday, 27 November 2008

More elderly 'could die of cold'

Elderly man
The number of winter deaths rose last year

Soaring energy prices could mean more deaths among elderly people this winter, a charity says.

An Age Concern poll of 2,300 people found many over 60s were worried about being able to heat their homes.

And with one of the coldest winters for some years predicted, the charity said that could lead to more people dying.

The warning comes after figures for England and Wales suggested there was a 7% jump in extra deaths last year despite a relatively mild winter.

The Office for National Statistics said that from December 2007 to March 2008 there were an extra 25,300 deaths in England and Wales compared with the average for non-winter months.

With this winter set to be colder than last, the numbers are likely to rise
Gordon Lishman, Age Concern

However, the figure was still some way short of the increase in deaths seen in the winters of the late 1990s when totals hit nearly 50,000 as flu swept around the country.

Nonetheless, the figures still indicate one of the highest rates of winter deaths - ahead of the likes of Finland and Denmark which generally have colder winters.

Gordon Lishman, director general of Age Concern, said this was a scandal.

He added: "With this winter set to be colder than last, the numbers are likely to rise. Pensioners are clearly more worried about staying warm and well this year.

"Yet, the impact of increased energy bills is causing thousands to risk their health by cutting back on heating."

The poll showed nearly two-thirds were worried about their ability to stay warm, with half of older people already cutting back.

Mr Lishman urged the elderly to take several key steps to help protect themsleves this winter, including claiming benefits and getting the annual flu jab.

And despite the rise in the winter fuel allowance, he also urged ministers to do more to keep energy prices low for the most vulnerable, pointing out most people were in favour of some kind of market intervention.

A Department of Health spokeswoman also urged people to get the flu jab.

She added: "Cold weather and winter illnesses can have a very big impact on people’s health, but many winter deaths are preventable."

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