Pensioners dying due to cold

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MORE pensioners are dying every year in Wigan due to wintery weather than anywhere else in Greater Manchester.

For the first time the government has released the number of deaths in each local authority caused by extreme weather, and they revealed that 350 people dies between March 2009 and April 2011 from cold weather conditions.

Wigan had more deaths than another area in the region including Manchester itself.

The vast majority of deaths were of people aged over 75, says the Office of National Statistics.

Heart attacks and strokes also increase during severe cold snaps and slips on icy ground can lead to broken legs and hips, which can also prove fatal. Chronic lung conditions are also affected.

It is thought the number of deaths dropped last year as there was much less flu recorded – the lowest level on record.

Nationally there were 19,500 ‘excess’ winter deaths – those above the expected figure during the rest of the year – in people aged 75 and over in England and Wales in 2011/12, compared with 4,500 in the under-75 group.

Dr Tim Dalton, local GP and Chair of Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group (WBCCG) said: “Each winter we see an increase in the number of people who have underlying health problems being admitted to hospital. They are particularly vulnerable to wintery conditions that the majority of us take for granted.

“If you have an underlying health condition there are five key questions to ask yourself. The first question is have you had your flu jab, so that you are protected against the influenza virus. The second is do you need a review of the medicines you’re taking – your pharmacist can help with this, and can check you are on the correct medication for your condition.

“The third question is have you got a care plan, which is essentially a checklist of steps you need to take to manage your condition, to help prevent you getting ill in the first place.

“Next you need to check you have the right medicines at home for your condition, in case you start to get a cold, upset stomach, sore throat and so on. And finally there is to check other local information or community support services that are available for people with your condition.

“People with respiratory problems are the second biggest group for emergency hospital admissions and this reaches a peak in the winter months. In the North West between November 2010 and February 2011 there were over 37,000 people admitted to hospital with respiratory problems.”

The news comes as the elderly charity Age UK said illnesses related to living in a cold home cost the NHS £1.36bn every year.

Age UK is urging the government and local authorities to help improve energy-saving measures in homes in a bid to reduce winter deaths.

The majority of the elderly who die in winter die from strokes, heart diseases and lung problems, worsened by the cold. The root of the problem is poorly insulated homes and the increases in energy bills in recent years, making older people cut back on heating to save money, Age UK says.

“It is an absolute scandal that tens of thousands of older people will become ill or die this winter because they are unable to keep warm,” said Michelle Mitchell, of Age UK.