The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

Excess winter deaths highest for 40 years, ONS figures reveal

Respiratory disease accounted for over a third of these deaths in 2017-18

Caroline White

Monday, 03 December 2018

The number of people dying last winter (December to March) in England and Wales, compared with the rest of the year, was the highest on record since the winter of 1975-6, reveal the latest figures* on excess winter deaths from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In the 2017 to 2018 winter period, there were an estimated 50,100 excess winter deaths in England and Wales, with the number of daily deaths exceeding the daily five-year average for all days except 25 March. Nearly 46,000 of those excess winter deaths were among people aged 65 and over.

The excess winter deaths were significantly higher than in the 2016 to 2017 winter in all English regions and Wales, with Wales having the highest regional index.

Women and those aged 85 and over continued to be at greatest risk of a winter death, figures show, although excess mortality doubled among males aged 0 to 64 between 2016 to 2017 and 2017 to 2018.

Over a third (nearly 35%) of all excess winter deaths were caused by respiratory disease.

Commenting on the figures, Nick Stripe, health analysis and life events at the ONS cautioned that “Peaks like these are not unusual – we have seen more than eight peaks during the last 40 years. It is likely that last winter’s increase was due to the predominant strain of flu, the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine, and below-average winter temperatures.”

But Age UK's charity director Caroline Abrahams, said the figures were “shocking” and “distressing,” equating to 379 older people a day.

“A toxic cocktail of poor housing, high energy prices, and ill health can make winter a dangerous time for many older people, and tragically it is the oldest old and those who are the most vulnerable who particularly suffer the consequences,” she said.

“We know such high levels of excess winter deaths are not inevitable. As a country we are not doing enough to ensure our older population stays warm and well throughout the harsh winter months,” she insisted.

Anyone who is concerned about staying warm and healthy this winter should call the Charity's advice line free of charge on 0800 169 6565 or visit ageuk.org.uk/winter for a free copy of its annually updated guide Winter wrapped up, she said.

A second set of ONS figures** shows on deaths by UK country and area residence shows that the age standardised mortality rate (ASMR) for the UK, which adjusts for changes in the population size and age-structure, was 982.0 deaths per 100,000 population in 2017.

Scotland topped the league table of the four UK countries with an ASMR of 1,142.9/1000 population, compared with 1,035.6 in Wales and1,036.9 in Northern Ireland.

The North East was the region of England with the highest ASMR, with 1,090.1 deaths/100,000 while London had the lowest ASMR, with 856.6 deaths/ 100,000 population.

The local authority in England with the highest ASMR was the City of Kingston upon Hull (1,345.8 deaths per 100,000 population) while the City of London had the lowest (528.6 deaths per 100,000 population).

In 2017, the infant mortality rate was highest in England (4.0 deaths per 1,000 live births), followed by Northern Ireland (3.8 deaths per 1,000 live births). Infant mortality rates were lowest in Scotland (3.3 deaths per 1,000 live births) and then Wales (3.4 deaths per 1,000 live births) in 2017.

*Excess winter mortality England and Wales 2017 to 2018 (provisional) and 2016 to 2017 (final). Figures prepared by the Office for National Statistics, 30 November 2018.
**Deaths registered by area of usual residence, UK. Figures prepared by the Office for National Statistics, 30 November 2018.

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470