Covid Scotland: Highest winter death toll in 20 years due to pandemic

Last year saw Scotland’s highest winter death toll in 20 years amid the Covid-19 pandemic, new figures show.

National Records of Scotland figures published on Tuesday show there were 4,330 additional deaths last winter, a 10 per cent increase on the previous five-year average. Two thirds of these additional deaths – defined as the extra deaths between December and March when compared with the rest of the year – had Covid-19 as an underlying cause.

The overall death toll in this period was 23,370, the highest since the winter of 1999/2000.

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The increase of 4,330 deaths compared to the rest of the year is the second highest figure in that period, lower only than the winter of 2017/18, which saw a particularly bad flu season.

Members of the public walk past a government poster reminding people to socially distance and abide by the lockdown restrictions in the city centre on January 29, 2021 in Glasgow. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Other major causes of additional deaths in winter last year were dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and coronary (ischaemic) heart disease – both with 210 additional deaths each.

Chronic lower respiratory diseases accounted for 100 extra deaths, while 50 were due to accidental falls, and 50 due to pneumonia.

National Records of Scotland said very few deaths were directly due to cold weather.

Older people are disproportionately affected by winter deaths.

In 2020/21, there were 13 extra deaths per 1,000 people aged 85 and over, compared to fewer than one per 1,000 for people under 65.

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Pete Whitehouse, Director of Statistical Services at NRS, said: “These figures show again the significant impact Covid-19 had on Scotland last winter.

"Compared to the average of the previous five winters, the winter of 2020/21 saw a 10 per cent higher level of mortality, with the majority of additional deaths being due to Covid-19.”

Additional deaths during winter have tended to decrease in Scotland, from around 5,200 per year in the 1950s and 60s, to an average of around 2,600 in the recent decade.

NRS said it is not clear yet whether recent increases before the Covid-19 pandemic suggest a departure from this trend.

There is no clear evidence of a difference in winter deaths between the most deprived and least deprived areas of Scotland.

As of October 6, NRS figures show 11,134 deaths have been registered in Scotland where Covid-19 was listed on the death certificate.

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