Health

Winter death toll 'falls by 8%'

Snow plough
Image caption Last winter was relatively mild

Mild weather and low levels of flu contributed to an 8% fall in extra deaths last winter in England and Wales, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) data compares the number of deaths during the winter months with the average in other parts of the year.

There were 24,000 excess deaths in the winter of 2011-12, compared with 25,700 the year before.

The vast majority of excess deaths, 19,500, were in the over 75s.

The ONS said levels of flu last winter were the lowest on record. It said this, combined with mild weather, would explain why there were fewer deaths.

The charity Age UK welcomed the fall in deaths, but said the overall number was too high and was a "national tragedy".

Its director general, Michelle Mitchell, said: "Every single excess winter death is preventable and represents our failure to meet the challenge of plummeting temperatures in Britain.

"Even in very cold countries such as Finland, excess winter deaths are much lower because they take staying warm seriously and prepare for cold weather."

"This fall does not prove progress in tackling the problem of excess winter deaths, as data shows that colder temperatures in future years could result in another sharp hike in deaths.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We're pleased to see there was an overall reduction in excess winter deaths however there is no room for complacency.

"We have allocated £20m to local authorities to help vulnerable people stay well during cold weather and get the help they need within their communities.

"And we urge anyone with a long-term condition to get a free flu jab from their GP."

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