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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 October 2005, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
Rise seen in winter deaths toll
A pensioner by a heater
Elderly people are urged to keep warm this winter
The number of winter deaths in England and Wales last year were the highest since 2000, official figures show.

Statisticians look at the number of deaths between December and March, and compared them to those which occur during the rest of the year.

Office for National Statistics data showed last winter there were 31,600 "excess" deaths, compared with under 30,000 in the previous four years.

A campaign to help the elderly look after their health has been launched.

It is inhuman that in our country in the 21st century so many older people die needless deaths simply because of the cold
Mervyn Kohler, Help the Aged

The 2004 - 2005 figure is still fewer than was seen in the winters of 1998 -1999 and 1999 - 2000 when there were 46,840 and 48,440 excess deaths respectively.

In 2003/2004 there were 23,450 excess deaths.

'Complex causes'

Health minister Lord Warner said: "It is important to put these figures on winter excess deaths in context and it would be wrong to draw conclusions on a single year's data.

"The long-term trend continues to show a steady decline."

He added: "The NHS is used to planning for winter and this year is no different. We closely monitor the impact on NHS services during the winter months and the experience of previous years shows that the NHS takes winter in its stride.

"The causes of excess winter deaths are very complex, but cold weather and illnesses such as flu can play an important part.

"That's why we want to help people to stay healthy during the winter.

"The Keep Warm, Keep Well campaign offers advice to older people on how to stay fit and healthy through the winter, the Get the Right Treatment campaign helps patients to access the right services and our seasonal flu vaccination programme is one of the most successful in Europe."

He also urged the over-65s to get a flu jab.

But Help the Aged said the latest figures on winter deaths were "a scar on society" and made it clear that "government policy is failing".

It said 24,700 of last year's winter deaths were in people aged 75 or over, a 34% increase on the previous year.

Mervyn Kohler, of Help the Aged, said: "It is inhuman that in our country in the 21st century so many older people die needless deaths simply because of the cold.

"Rising fuel costs coupled with poor housing conditions are consigning thousands of vulnerable older people to an unnecessary and cruel death."

Q&A: Cold weather deaths
23 Dec 03 |  Health

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