Winter Deaths in Scotland
The number of deaths registered in Scotland last winter reached the highest level since 1999/2000 according to official figures from the National Records of Scotland. The data reveals that 23,137 deaths were registered between December and March, a rise of 10.5% compared to the year before and the highest level for 18 years.
While the winter months traditionally see more deaths reported due to the cold weather.
The figures from last winter showed a marked increase over previous years and brought to an end the prevailing downward trend which has seen the number of deaths reported each year fall since 1951-52.
Rising energy prices to blame
The Scottish Government said that flu was a major contributing factor to the increase. But it should also be noted that the rise in deaths coincided with plummeting temperatures and rising energy prices.
Last winter saw temperatures plummet as much of the UK came under the icy grip of the ‘Beast from the East’. At the same time, energy companies hiked their prices, some by as much as 9%, adding hundreds of pounds to the average heating bill.
This is a perfect storm for the elderly, many of whom struggle to pay their heating bills during the cold winter months. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures increases the chances of contracting influenza and pneumonia particularly in those aged over 65 or those with an underlying respiratory condition.
Age Scotland’s head of policy Adam Stachura said that the elderly should look to move to cheaper energy tariffs before the cold weather sets in later this year. He also advised all those entitled, to ensure they are registered for Cold Weather Payments which can help ease the burden as temperatures start to drop.
New flu vaccine should help
It is too early to say if this is a blip or if it represents a change in the long-term trend. Last year Scotland suffered its highest rate of flu for seven years. A statistic in line with the rest of Europe. However, Ann Slater, Chief Executive of the NRS said: “the average value for the last five years is now above the level that had applied since the early 2000s.”
A new improved flu vaccine could help contain the rise in deaths and reduce pressure on the NHS going forward. The improved aTIV ‘Fluad’ vaccine, which contains an added ingredient to help boost the immune system, will be available to all patients over the age of 65 in England and Wales during the 2018/19 vaccination season.
However, the new vaccine will only be available to patients over the age of 75 in Scotland. This comes after public health minister Joe Fitzpatrick admitted the government had failed to order enough of the vaccine in time. Anyone aged between 65 and 75 is still eligible for a flu-jab but will receive the older less effective vaccine instead.
This shouldn’t dissuade anyone entitled to a flu-jab from getting one, however. Vaccines are still our best line of defence against flu and provide protection against a number of strains of the virus. But for it to be effective it must be administered before the cold weather sets in.
Ensuring you are properly vaccinated is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of getting the virus, but it’s not the only thing. Homeowners, particularly the over 65s, should take Age Scotland’s advice and shop around for cheaper heating tariffs while ensuring they are registered for Cold Weather Payments.
This should ease the burden of paying energy bills allowing elderly homeowners to stay warm as the winter sets in. Because energy prices are not getting any cheaper and there is every chance this winter will be just as cold as the last one.