Recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that there were almost 50,000 excess winter deaths among the over 65s from cold-related illness such as heart attacks, pneumonia and strokes over the winter of 2014/15. This is double the number of winter deaths in that age group in 2013/14.
Age UK has calculated that there have been 2.5 million avoidable deaths among older people in England and Wales due to the winter cold over the last 60 years. Cold, poorly insulated homes are at the root of this problem.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “Behind the figures are many individual tragedies of older people dying needlessly before their time. Not only is the human cost of cold devastating, treating the casualties piles big avoidable costs on the NHS and social care services too.”
Commenting on these statistics, Lucie Prothero, senior associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches who specialises in elderly care cases, said: “Earlier this year we raised concerns that the squeeze in social care is putting vulnerable older people at risk. The logical deduction from these statistics is that cuts in social care and welfare benefits may be a root cause of this terrible rise in avoidable winter deaths.
“During the winter months, we see increasing numbers of enquiries about poor standards of elderly care, both in the community and in hospitals. Something as basic as inadequate heating in older people’s homes can put them at risk of avoidable health conditions which result in admissions to hospital. This puts further strain on the NHS acute health services such as the ambulance service and A&E departments.
“We then see complaints of poor standards of medical and nursing care once the older patient is admitted to hospital, often leading to a worsening of their health, and sometimes death. Not supporting older people with something as fundamental as adequate heating in their homes increases the burden on our already overstretched NHS services.”