Concerns raised over Scotland's winter death rates

Concerns over the rise of winter deaths in Scotland. Picture: Derek Blair/AFP/Getty Images)

A total of 20,930 people died in Scotland from December 2016 to March 2017, according to new figures showing an increase in the number of winter deaths of 421 on the previous year.

Opposition politicians expressed concern at the most recent figure, which compared with the 20,509 winter deaths recorded in 2015/16.

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The data released by the National Records of Scotland confirmed the long-standing pattern that more people die in the cold winter months than in the other seasons.

The “seasonal difference” for winter 2016/17 was 2,720. Seasonal difference is calculated by comparing the number of deaths in the four winter months with the average for the two adjacent four-month periods, the 2016/17 seasonal difference of 2,720 was slightly lower than the corresponding figure of 2,850 for winter 2015/16.  

Overall, the seasonal increase of 2,720 in winter 2016/17 was smaller than in most of the 65 previous winters, but it was still above the level seen in five of the previous ten winters.

According to the NRS, very few deaths were caused by hypothermia. The underlying causes of most of the ‘additional’ deaths are circulatory system diseases (such as coronary heart disease), respiratory system diseases (such as pneumonia), dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative nervous system diseases. In only a small proportion of deaths is influenza recorded as the underlying cause.

Scottish Conservative housing spokesman Graham Simpson said: “If we’re to reduce the number of unnecessary winter deaths, it will take a substantial effort from most agencies and areas of government responsibility. But making homes warmer right across the country, particularly in areas of fuel poverty, has to be one of the priorities.”

Scottish Labour interim leader Alex Rowley said: “This is the reality of council budgets being slashed and the health service not receiving the support it needs.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “Although figures can fluctuate from year to year, the long term trend for winter mortality has shown a marked decline since the 1950s and excess winter deaths have fallen again this year. The Scottish Government is working hard to help the NHS be as prepared as it can be for winter.”