Warning over region's winter deaths

URGENT action is needed to stop rising numbers of deaths in East Anglia over the winter months, it has been warned.There were an estimated 3,400 more deaths in the east between December 2004 and March 2005 than the average during the non-winter months, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

URGENT action is needed to stop rising numbers of deaths in East Anglia over the winter months, it has been warned.

There were an estimated 3,400 more deaths in the east between December 2004 and March 2005 than the average during the non-winter months, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The number of people dying during the winter in the region has reached a five-year high, rising from 2,280 excess deaths in 2003-4.

The biggest increase was felt in the 85-plus age bracket, where the number of excess deaths rose from 990 to a projected 1,600.


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Respiratory and circulatory diseases were mainly responsible for the increase in winter deaths, said the ONS.

The figures have caused alarm among pensioners' leaders and charities, which have called for action to stem the “needless deaths” from cold-related illnesses.

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Concern has been heightened by the prospect of the coldest winter for 10 years and proposed health cuts in Suffolk.

Age Concern Suffolk chief executive Daphne Savage said: “It is shameful that here in Britain we have one of the highest rates of winter deaths in Europe.

“The cost of heating, often a poor standard of housing and low incomes all leave some older people vulnerable and we know that those most at risk are pensioners who live alone.

“Age Concern would like to see the Government increase the basic state pension to at least £109 a week so that all elderly people have enough money to heat their homes and have a good diet, rather than having to choose one or the other.”

Terry Cassels, chief officer of Age Concern Essex, said: “The Government has given out winter fuel payments of £200 for the last two years, with those over 80 receiving an additional £100. That is not guaranteed next year, or the year after.

“What we would like to see is for people to be given a decent pension in the first place and a guarantee of the winter payment every year.”

Mervyn Kohler, head of public affairs at Help the Aged, said: “These figures are a scar on society that should shame us all.

“Rising fuel costs coupled with poor housing conditions are consigning thousands of vulnerable older people to an unnecessary and cruel death.”

He claimed if the current rate of increase in winter deaths continued nationally 200,000 older people would die by 2010 and said the situation required “urgent action from ministers”.

Pam O'Garvaigh, chair of Forum 55 Plus Suffolk - a senior citizens action group, said: “We can't say for certain that these figures will go up but it is likely it is going to happen as older people are more vulnerable with these cuts in hospitals.”

Help the Aged and British Gas have produced research showing more than 20% of all households in the East of England containing one or more over 65-year-olds fail to meet minimum national standards for home decency. And there were nearly 60,000 households living in fuel poverty in the region.

Dr Wil Gibson, chief executive of Suffolk Acre, said: “I think lots of people are capital-rich but relatively poor. They have large houses that are not insulated but they have not got the revenue to be warm enough.

“I do not think we have necessarily taken the whole issue of warm houses seriously.”

Sarah Candy, cabinet member with responsibility for adult social care at Essex County Council, said she would examine the figures carefully with her head of department to make sure the council was doing everything it could to help elderly people.

“Everyone who is vulnerable is assessed and then their situation is reviewed a minimum of once per year.

“There are lots of safeguards to catch anyone who does need an assessment, and financial advisers are part of that support to help anyone maximise their benefits.”

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