Excess winter deaths rose by nearly a fifth 2019-20

The surplus of winter deaths has increased by nearly 20% in 2019-2020 compared to the previous winter, new figures show.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there were an estimated 28,300 additional winter deaths in England and Wales in the winter of 2019-2020.

This was 19.6% higher than the 23,670 recorded in the winter of 2018/19, but still lower than the 49,410 recorded in the winter of 2017-18.

Winter excess deaths compares the number of deaths in the months of December to March with the average number of deaths in the preceding August to November and the subsequent April to July.

The National Energy Action charity said about 8,500 of the winter deaths in 2019-20 were due to cold houses, warning that coming winter could be even worse due to the impact of the coronavirus.

Chief executive, Adam Scorer, said, “In our last ‘normal’ winter, 8,500 lives were lost to cold houses.

“Low incomes, high energy costs and poor heating and insulation keep them in conditions that were unsuitable to survive the cold weather.

“This winter, that deadly cocktail will be made many times worse by the impact of Covid-19.

“Millions of low-income households will spend more time at home with an impossible decision.

“Will they keep themselves and their families warm and likely go into debt, or will they ration their heat and resign themselves to living in a dangerously cold house with a greater risk of the health problems that follow Covid-19?”

The charity called for three measures to help people in fuel poverty this winter, including “enforcing and strengthening” the increase in universal credit, ending enforcement measures, and finding new ways to help those in debt.

For the winter of 2019-2020, the NEO said it had excluded deaths involving the coronavirus on the death certificate from the main figures in order to improve the “comparability of this winter’s measure with previous years.”

When Covid-19 deaths were included, there were an estimated 8,700 additional winter deaths during the 2019-2020 season – the lowest number on record since the date-time series began in 1950-51.

However, the RVS said, “The low estimate is explained by the comparison with the high number of Covid-19 deaths that mainly occurred in the non-winter months of April to July, rather than an exceptionally low number of winter deaths.”

The new data, released Friday, also showed that respiratory illnesses are still the leading cause of excessive winter deaths in 2019-2020.

Respiratory diseases were responsible for 39.6% of all additional winter deaths in England and 40.0% in Wales, the ONS added.

Emma Rubach, head of health advisory at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “Today’s figures are a tragic reminder that the colder months can be deadly for people with respiratory disease, even without the threat of Covid-19.

“This winter, with Covid-19 in circulation, it is vital that people with lung disease do everything they can to keep themselves healthy.”

In England, there were an estimated 26,500 additional winter deaths in 2019-2020, with 50.2% among men and 49.4% among women, according to the ONS.

In Wales, there were an estimated 2,000 additional winter deaths in 2019-2020, divided equally between men and women.

Wales had the highest rate of extra deaths in the winter of 2019-2020 at 19.2%, followed by the North West at 19.0% and London at 18.6%.

The excess mortality-mortality index for these areas was “statistically significantly” higher than the England average of 16.8%, the ONS said.

In comparison, Yorkshire and the Humber at 15.7%, the East of England at 15.6%, the Southwest at 15.2% and the Northeast at 13.8% were statistically significantly lower.

The winter excess mortality index is calculated so that comparisons can be made between sexes, age groups, and regions, and shows the percentage of additional deaths between December and March.