UK & World News

  • 30 March 2014, 6:05

Death Rate Down After Warm Winter Weather

The mild winter dramatically reduced the number of deaths, particularly among the elderly, research by Sky News has shown.

Between the start of December and mid-March, 10,881 fewer people died in England and Wales, a drop of 6.7% compared to last winter and 5.2% down on the five-year average.

It is the lowest winter mortality for at least eight years, largely because of the unusually warm winter and low rates of flu.

Hospitals also benefited from the benign weather. They had feared a surge of patients over recent months but have coped far better than last year.

Dr Simon Eccles, a consultant in emergency medicine at St Thomas' Hospital, London, said: "In some ways we got away with it this year.

"Had we had a particularly cold snap, had we had a large outbreak of flu or winter vomiting virus, most hospitals would have really struggled to cope.

"Clearly people had planned and there was some additional money, though broadly similar to sums we had in previous years.

"But we were, in many ways, saved by having a mild winter."

Sky's analysis of death registrations published by the Office of National Statistics shows the drop in deaths this winter was particularly marked in the elderly, with 7.2% fewer 75-84-year-olds and 9.9% fewer over-85s dying compared to last year.

Older people have weakened immune systems, making them vulnerable to chest infections and flu.

Their bodies are less able to respond to cold temperatures, putting extra strain on their hearts.

The Department of Health gave the NHS an extra 250m to recruit more accident and emergency staff and add additional capacity for the anticipated surge in patients needing treatment.

But thinktank 2020 Health said the Government could not claim the credit.

Its chief executive Julia Manning said: "Ministers are probably breathing a massive sigh of relief because the amount of extra money they gave was quite small.

"The weather really worked in the NHS' favour. We had very little snow and almost no ice, particularly in southern England.

"People didn't have the falls and fractures they would have done normally, so the demand in A and E just wasn't what was predicted."

This winter has been the fifth warmest on record.

Met Office data shows mean temperatures between December and February were 1.6C higher the long-term average in England. Wales was 1.5C warmer than average.

The Department of Health is already looking back on hospitals' performance over recent months so it can plan for next winter.

It declined to comment on why A and E units coped better than expected this year.

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