‘Shocking’ winter related deaths spiral to highest rates on record

The number of winter-related deaths in Northern Ireland has reached heights far above any official records dating backing to the 1970s, with 810 people aged over 85 dying last winter.

The most vulnerable group is clearly those aged over 85, with 570 also dying in 2016/17, according to figures on ‘Excess Winter Deaths’ released by the NI Statistics and Research Agency today.

Both the overal winter-related death rates and those in the over 85 age group are substantially greater than any other year in the officially published figures dating back to 1974.

The overall excess winter figures for all age groups jumped up by 134% in the past two years.

In NI there were 640 excess winter deaths in 2015/16, however figures released this morning show that there was a sharp jump in the NI figures in 2016/17 to 960, jumping even higher last winter to 1500, coinciding with reports of chaos in emergency departments in hospitals across NI, widespread flu and severe weather conditions.

Once again, the figures in the past two years show that those over 65 comprised the vast majority of excess winter deaths in NI.

Age NI said the figures show that over last winter there were 1,420 excess winter deaths among people aged 65 and over.

Responding to the new figures, Age NI’s Chief Executive, Linda Robinson said: “Last winter there were over 1,400 excess winter deaths amongst people aged 65 and over – a shocking 95 per cent of all excess deaths. This equates to the deaths of 12 older people a day. This is deeply disheartening and distressing.

“We know this high level of excess winter mortality is not inevitable. We can and should do more to ensure that older people stay warm and well throughout colder winter months.

“High winter mortality is an indirect indicator of the difficulties older people face in protecting themselves from the cold in Northern Ireland. A combination of poor housing, high energy prices and ill health can make winter a dangerous time for many older people. Tragically, it is the oldest old and those who are the most vulnerable who particularly suffer the consequences.

“Each year Age NI receives a steady number of calls to our Advice Service requesting information on the replacement of inefficient and broken boilers. At the onset of the colder winter months, calls increase about home insulation as older people try to maximise fuel efficiency at home.

“Once again, we see how the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive impacts on implementing policies that would benefit this vulnerable group in our society. We need local politicians to work together on all aspects of health and wellbeing to improve outcomes for older people.”

Anyone who is concerned about staying warm and healthy this winter should call the Age NI Advice & Advocacy Service on FREEPHONE 0808 808 7575. Lines are open from 8am – 7pm, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Or visit www.ageni.org/spreadthewarmth for more information and advice

Age NI advises that by taking some simple steps, older people can stay warm, well and safe in the winter months;-

1. By setting your heating to the right temperature (18-21°C or 64-70°F), you can keep your home warm and your bills as low as possible.

2. Food is a vital source of energy, which helps to keep your body warm. Keep basic food items in the cupboard or freezer, and try to have hot meals and drinks throughout the day.

3. Try to avoid going outside on extremely cold days. If you do need to, wrap up warm and remember that several thin layers will keep you warmer than one thick layer.

4. Keeping active generates heat and helps to keep you warm, so when you’re indoors, try not to sit still for more than an hour. Get up and walk around, make yourself a warm drink, and spread any chores throughout the day.

5. If you’re over 65, be sure to have a seasonal flu jab. Seasonal flu viruses are always changing, so you need to have a jab every year, using the latest vaccine.

6. It’s not unusual to feel a bit down in winter. Try to keep to your usual routines and, if you can’t visit friends, make sure you phone them regularly for a chat.

7. Call Age NI’s Advice Service on 0808 808 7575 for a free benefits check.