New figures released by the National Records of Scotland showed that 22,011 deaths were registered in the four months between December 2014 and March 2015, an increase of 3,336 on the previous year. This is the highest since the winter of 1999/2000 when there was a flu epidemic. Commenting on ‘Winter Mortality in Scotland - 2014/15’, Tim Ellis, Chief Executive of the National Records of Scotland, said:
"There is no single cause of additional deaths in winter. Very few are caused by hypothermia and only a small proportion by influenza. The underlying causes of most of the additional deaths include respiratory and circulatory diseases (such as pneumonia, coronary heart disease and stroke), dementia, and Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases.”
The breakdown of the figures on the increase reveal 270 people were under 65 years of age and 3,790 were over 65, with almost 2,000 being over 85 years of age. If the majority of these deaths were not caused by hypothermia, then this should be an alarm call to Health and Social Care that people are falling through the net.
Tom Berney, SOPA Chair said: “It is shocking to see such a sharp increase in winter deaths. I am sure it is no coincidence that the rise comes at time when austerity welfare measures were beginning to bite against a background of fuel prices having increased by 20 per cent between 2010 and 2013. In our meetings with older people we regularly hear reports of people worried about the cost of adequately heating their homes and at worst having to cut down on food to pay their bills. According to Government figures there are now almost a million households in Scotland in a state of fuel poverty. Cold and damp are a major contributor to respiratory illness. The long term forecast is that next winter will be one of the most severe on record and we must ensure that older people are able to cope.”
If degenerative diseases are behind the increase in deaths then inadequate monitoring of certain vulnerable older people, probably living on their own, must be an important factor.
Click here to listen to a short BBC Radio Scotland Interview on 21st October with Tom Berney and GP Dean Marshall on the topic of last year's mortality rates.