Root cause of deaths need to be addressed
Age Scotland has warned against complacency over winter deaths despite a recorded 13% drop.
Statistics released by National Records of Scotland (NRS) found that 20,188 deaths were registered in Scotland last winter, a drop of 2,965 during winter 2017/18.
Between December 2018 and March 2019, the seasonal increase in deaths was 2,060, 57% less than the previous winter (2017-18, which had the highest number of deaths since winter 1999-2000).
The seasonal increase of 2,060 in winter 2018-19 was the seventh lowest in the 68 winters (back to 1951-52) for which such figures are available. The latest 19 winters have had eight out of the ten lowest seasonal increases ever recorded.
While the reduction in additional winter deaths has been welcomed by Age Scotland, the charity has cautioned against complacency.
The charity is calling for more work to be done to ensure that older people have homes which are properly insulated and suitably warm in extreme cold weather, that the poorest pensioner households have enough income to use their heating and afford hot food, and have all received the flu vaccine as early as possible.
Age Scotland research has also highlighted that six in 10 single pensioner households struggle to pay their energy bills.
Age Scotland’s head of policy, Adam Stachura, said: “On the face of it this significant reduction in additional winter deaths is good news and when compared to the previous year where the most common cause of death was pneumonia and flu they are now considerably lower.
“However, the two spikes in additional winter deaths over the last decade seem to have coincided with extremely cold weather which means that it is vitally important to ensure that older people, particularly those on low income and in poor health, are better prepared to stay warm and vaccinated against the flu.
“To do this we must redouble efforts to ensure in advance of future extreme cold weather older people have access to home energy efficiency programmes, are aware of how to maximise their incomes with benefits such as Pension Credit so that they can afford to heat their homes and eat hot food, and get the flu vaccine as early as possible to protect against that risk.
“This year’s flu vaccine awareness campaign already appears to be doing a good job in boosting take up but it is important that people do book these in with their GP practice as soon as possible.”
It is estimated that more than 120,000 households in Scotland were not claiming the pension credit benefit which they were entitled to, which would have boosted their income and meant that they also missed out on Cold Weather Payments, designed to pay out £25 for each week of very cold weather. The annual sum of unclaimed pension credit in Scotland was nearly £332 million last year.