There were an estimated 31,100 excess winter deaths in England and Wales last year – up by almost a third on the previous winter, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The figure represented the highest number of excess winter mortality (EWM) since 2008-09, when 36,450 excess deaths were recorded.
Those aged over 75 comprised 25,600 of the deaths, and EWM was higher in females (18,000) than males (13,100).
The north-west of England had the highest rates, and London the lowest. The local authority area with the highest EWM was Adur in West Sussex, where 48.3% more deaths occurred in winter than during the non-winter period, the ONS report says.
The areas with the lowest EWM were Melton in Leicestershire and Ceredigion in Wales, where there was no excess winter mortality.
The charity Age UK described the figures as “shameful” and “preventable” and urged the government to lower energy bills so that those who are most vulnerable – the frail and elderly – could keep their homes warm during winter.
Winter 2012-13 was characterised by a milder than average December, followed by a lengthy cold snap running into April. March 2013 was the coldest since 1962, with an average monthly temperature of just 2.6C.
The first week of January registered the highest number of deaths, coinciding with a peak in rates of influenza-like illness over Christmas. However, the mean number of deaths was higher than average over a prolonged period between February and April.
Statisticians warned against making a clear link between low temperatures and high deaths, however, pointing out that winter 2009-10 was exceptionally cold, but the excess winter death rate was similar to years when there had been mild winters.
Although cold can have physiological effects, which may lead to thrombosis, increased blood pressure and lower resistance to to respiratory infections in vulnerable people, the ONS says that temperature “only explains a small amount of the variance in winter mortality, and high levels of excess mortality can occur during relatively mild winters”.
Excess winter deaths rates have fluctuated over the past 60 years, from over 100,000 in 1950-51 to just over 20,000 in the late 1980s. Using a five-year moving average, which smooths out short-term fluctuations, excess winter deaths have been declining steadily since 1960-61, although there has been a small rise in the past seven years.
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