Winter deaths up by 10% and it may be the better-off suffering
DEATHS due to winter illnesses and injuries in Derbyshire have increased by a tenth over three years.
NHS figures show how 453 lives in Derbyshire were claimed by the cold weather in 2012, compared to 392 in 2009, an increase of about 15%.
In Derby, the number increased from 123 in 2009 to 138 in 2011 – but then dropped last year to 121. These deaths – known as "excess winter deaths" – occur when people, who died during a cold spell, would not have died at any other time.
Health experts said this was because low temperatures can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure as the body tries to keep warm, leading to the risk of blood clots and, subsequently, heart attacks and strokes.
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Damp and dark conditions also increase the risk of falls or the possibility of developing hypothermia.
They said it was not certain why there had been an increase in the past three years, although the ageing population and the increasing cost of fuel bills could be factors.
Experts said the reason the number was increasing in the county, and not the city, was perhaps because vulnerable people tended to be more isolated in rural areas.
Dr Sheila Newport, chairman for the NHS Southern Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said: "Harsh winter weather can take its toll on your body if you are more susceptible to illness, you are older or have a long-term medical condition.
"Fuel poverty is also a key factor. As temperatures drop, many suffer ill health as they can't afford to keep warm."
Dr Rida Eikheir, senior consultant in public health medicine for NHS Derby City, said the traditional stereotype of a person suffering from the cold being a less-well-off pensioner in a terraced home is not always the case. He said often the problem is a widowed elderly person who has been relatively well-off left living alone in a larger house that is more difficult to heat.
The figures show that in 2010 there was a dip to 376 excess winter deaths in Derbyshire but, in 2011, it increased again to 443. But Bruce Laurence, acting director of public health for NHS Derbyshire County and Derbyshire County Council, said he did not believe figures had particularly increased over the past decade.
He said: "Figures tend to go up and down each year, to reflect just how cold the winter is. The length of cold spells and severity of winter is often the biggest factor.
"The best way people can prevent such deaths is things like having hot meals, getting your flu jab and looking out for your neighbours."
For information on keeping warm, visit www.derbycitypct.nhs.uk.