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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 16:14 GMT
Winter deaths rise 'shameful'
Elderly couple
Elderly people are particularly vulnerable during the winter
The number of winter deaths in Scotland last year were almost 10 times the figure of deaths on the country's roads over the same period, statistics show.

Help the Aged and Scottish Gas have joined forces to highlight the dangers posed to the elderly and vulnerable.

Figures show that 2,900 people died of cold-related illnesses in 2003, an increase of 400 on the previous year.

The Scottish Executive and Scottish National Party also expressed their concerns at the rise in fatalities.

Richard Meade, Help the Aged policy officer, said the statistics contributed to "the nation's shame".

The charity's partnership with the power company is designed to find ways to minimise preventable deaths in Scotland and tackle issues such as fuel policy.

Old people will receive an information pack entitled The Cold Can Kill as part of the campaign which will give them advice on how best to keep warm, claim benefits and insulate their homes.

To the nation's shame, these numbers of unnecessary winter deaths are significantly higher than in comparable European countries
Richard Meade
Help the Aged

Mr Meade said: "Last winter more than 2,500 people over the age of 65 died as a result of the cold in Scotland.

"To the nation's shame, these numbers of unnecessary winter deaths are significantly higher than in comparable European countries.

"Fuel poverty has been identified as one of the main contributory factors to winter deaths among older people, and whilst welcoming its successful reduction through the ongoing implementation of the executive's central heating programme, we are worried that the number of excess winter deaths has increased this year.

"It goes to show there is no room to be complacent and we believe the executive's efforts could benefit from improved levels of research into the other factors responsible for the high number of deaths among older people in the winter."

Scottish Gas director Tom Laidlaw added: "We have led the way with the introduction of innovative schemes such as this to help and would like to see all available resources across the public, private and voluntary sectors effectively targeted at those most in need."

'Raw deal'

On the political front, SNP social justice spokeswoman Christine Grahame claimed the number of deaths were "nothing short of irresponsible".

She said: "Scotland's elderly are getting a raw deal and while the executive's pledge to cut fuel poverty may help reduce the number of pensioners living in freezing conditions, I find it difficult to believe that this will fully solve the problem.

"We need to introduce a citizen's pension so we increase the income of elderly people, enabling them to afford to heat their homes during the winter months."

Meanwhile, the executive urged the elderly to ensure they had received injections for flu and pneumonia and to make sure they kept their homes warm this winter.

A spokesman said: "Last winter ministers urged energy companies to narrow the gap for electricity prices for Scottish customers who pay on average more than the average price for English customers and ministers have called on people to switch supplier or payment method where this would bring them benefit.

"Only this month, we challenged the fuel companies to offer a social tariff to people on pension credit so that they shouldn't have to live in fuel poverty."

The Cold Can Kill pack can be downloaded from the Help the Aged website.



SEE ALSO:
Warming offer to OAPs on heating
24 May 04 |  Scotland
Charity warning over winter deaths
27 Nov 03 |  Scotland
Energy firms urged to cut prices
20 Nov 03 |  Scotland
Cold weather 'killed thousands'
30 Oct 03 |  Health


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