Death rate in England and Wales is about a third higher than normal for this time of year, ONS figures show
|28,800 deaths were registered in the fortnight ending 23 January. |
Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
The death rate in England and Wales is about a third higher than normal for this time of year, official figures show, as the winter freeze tightens its grip on swaths of Britain.
About 28,800 deaths were registered in the fortnight ending 23 January, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is 32% higher than the average for that period over the previous five years (21,859).
The ONS suggested the flu virus and the cold snap could be to blame for the recent spike in winter deaths.
Separate analysis by Public Health England (PHE) shows that deaths among people aged over 65 have been higher than expected for six weeks, even taking the time of year into account.
The ONS figures show that 11,102 men and 14,129 women who died in the fortnight to 23 January were over 65. The total of 25,231 deaths among over-65s compares with 18,154 in the same period last year and 19,072 in 2013.
Public health experts believe the flu – and in particular the H3N2 sub-type – may be the driving force behind the most recent winter deaths. GPs and hospitals have reported spending more time dealing with the virus than they did last year, despite the same proportion of vulnerable people being vaccinated.
Dr Richard Pebody, PHE’s head of seasonal flu surveillance, said: “In recent weeks we have seen evidence of significant excess mortality, particularly in the elderly, with more deaths than expected at this time of the year. Two important causes of excess deaths during the winter are influenza and cold snaps, although estimating exactly how much can be attributed to each takes more time.
“The main type of flu that has been circulating this winter so far (influenza A/H3N2) is well recognised to particularly impact groups, such as the elderly and those with underlying chronic health problems, resulting in increases in hospitalisations and deaths. That is why we recommend these groups receive flu vaccine each year, ideally before the flu season starts.
“Throughout the winter season, PHE also encourages the early prescribing of antivirals for the treatment of flu and prophylaxis of vulnerable populations to reduce their risk of serious illness. We also offer advice throughout winter to health professionals and the public about staying safe and healthy in cold weather – which includes looking out for older people who may be more at risk from the effects of very cold weather.”
In the winter of 2012-13, 31,000 deaths were linked to the cold weather, prompting criticism of energy firms’ profits while many Britons were unable to pay the bills.