The number of deaths due to cold weather fell last year

By Dominic Hughes
Health correspondent, BBC News

Image caption,
The elderly are particularly vulnerable to the cold

The number of extra deaths occurring in England and Wales last winter fell despite the coldest weather for 14 years.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics show there were an estimated 25,400 extra deaths.

That marks a reduction of around 30% on the previous year.

The fall is possibly because while it was certainly cold last winter, there was no big outbreak of seasonal flu.

The figures measure the number of extra deaths that occur between December and March - usually the coldest months of the year - when compared to the average deaths that occur in autumn and spring.

The official term used by the ONS is "excess winter mortality".

The elderly are especially vulnerable during the colder winter months but although there are more deaths in winter, few die directly as a result of hypothermia.

Heart disease, flu and stroke are more much common causes of death.

The Department of Health says the figures are a reminder of the deadly impact cold weather can have on the elderly.

The Public Health Minister Anne Milton welcomed the fall in excess winter deaths but said the public needed to be prepared for another cold winter.

"We all have a role to play in remembering the needs of friends, relatives and neighbours who could be at risk especially at this time of year."

Age UK, the charity that campaigns for the elderly, said the figures seem to show some improvement.

But it said it was still unacceptable that tens of thousands of old people die as a result of cold weather.

The charity says the UK still has one of the highest winter mortality deaths in Europe.

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