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The BBC's James Westhead
"Simply wrapping up warm is not enough"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 00:10 GMT
Elderly deaths 'a national disgrace'
Snow
Cold conditions increase death rates
The government is not doing enough to stop the unnecessary death of old people during the winter, says a leading charity.

Help The Aged says the situation is a "national disgrace" and is calling for urgent action.


Britain's record on avoidable winter deaths is a national disgrace

Mervyn Kohler, Help The Aged
According to the charity's figures, nearly 50,000 more people died last year in the winter months December to March than in the preceding autumn and following summer.

Of these, 20,000 were over 85 and 17,000 were aged between 75 and 84.

Help The Aged said many of these deaths were due to circulatory diseases exacerbated by the cold, and respiratory diseases such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

Falling temperatures

The link between falling temperatures and death is illustrated in a Help The Aged report due out later this month.

It shows that for every one degree centigrade drop in temperature below 20C, mortality increases by around 2%.

Help the Aged spokesman Mervyn Kohler said: "Britain's record on avoidable winter deaths is a national disgrace.

"It is still terrible that in 2001 so many older people are dying from cold-related illnesses.

"Every needless death is a private tragedy and a public disgrace.

"Help the Aged is looking for a determined policy backed up by adequate resources together with community action to combat this ongoing scandal."

Help the Aged maintains that excess winter deaths are inextricably linked to poor housing and heating.

Ten-year policy

The Government has announced a 10-year policy aimed at eliminating "fuel poverty" - defined as households needing to spend at least 10% of income on heating - and has also supported the Warm Homes Act, which addresses the issue.

But the charity is calling for a forthcoming fuel poverty strategy paper to signal a radical programme of action and new resources to tackle poor housing, heating and fuel poverty.

The charity also wants to see new life breathed into the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme which was launched last June.

Community help sought

The scheme provides means-tested grants of up to 2,000 for improvements to central heating systems for people aged over 60.

But Help the Aged claims administrative complications have seriously hampered its introduction.

The charity is also calling on local communities, families and neighbours to play their part in identifying and supporting vulnerable older people.

It says a quick note offering help put through the letterbox can make all the difference to older people struggling in cold homes.

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See also:

19 Sep 00 | Health
Cold weather kills thousands
10 Feb 99 | Medical notes
Hypothermia
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