Calls for Tory minister to quit after winter deaths hit highest level since 1976

Campaigners called on Energy Minister Claire Perry to quit after the number of excess winter deaths hit the highest level since 1976.

Official figures show an estimated 50,100 additional people died in England and Wales last winter.

This equates to 417 deaths a day or 17 deaths an hour.

The increase is thought to be down to the flu, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine and the particularly cold weather last winter.

The number of deaths rose in every region of the country.

There are fears that this winter will bring further misery after a wave of energy price hikes in recent months.

Up to five million of Britain’s poorest households have been hit with a second wave of energy price rises.

Industry regulator Ofgem announced plans to increase a price cap that was supposed to protect prepayment meter customers and others who get the Government’s Warm Home Discount.

Its “safeguard” tariff limits what suppliers can charge.

But Ofgem raised the cap by £47 a year from October 1, meaning customers could be paying up to £1,136 for their gas and electricity.

It comes as experts predict the UK could be facing its coldest winter for eight years.

Jan Shortt, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: “Successive governments have simply ignored the problem of winter deaths amongst the older population and seem to have a policy of crossing their fingers and hoping things will improve.

“Today’s figures show that this policy simply doesn’t work – and things are now the worst they’ve been for over 40 years.

“It’s time someone took responsibility and that has to lie with the Energy Minister.”

Age UK’s charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said: “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 and those who are the most vulnerable who particularly suffer the consequences.”

Dr Veena Raleigh, senior fellow at the King’s Fund think-tank, said: “These figures show the grim reality that many older people died in winter 2017/18 after a severe flu outbreak.

“This follows some other recent winters when seasonal deaths have been high.

“With an ageing population, the worry is that this could be the start of a trend of periodically high winter deaths.

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community well-being board, said the figures were “hugely concerning”.

“There are too many avoidable deaths each winter in England, primarily due to heart and lung conditions from cold temperatures rather than hypothermia,” he added.

“Reducing excess winter illness and death is not something that can be tackled in the winter alone nor something that the NHS alone can fix.

“With the imminent publication of the NHS long-term plan and the Government’s Green Paper on the future of social care, and the Secretary of State’s focus on prevention, the Government has an important opportunity to take a truly system-wide approach to supporting people’s well-being.”

The ONS said more than a third of the deaths were caused by respiratory diseases.

Deaths were highest among females and people aged 85 and over.

Nick Stripe, head of health analysis and life events at the ONS, said: “The number of excess winter deaths in England and Wales in 201718 was the highest recorded since the winter of 1975/76.

“However, 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.”

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