Poor planning and a lack of national resources meant people in the UK were almost ten times more likely to die from a cold home than a road traffic accident during the cold snap last winter, a new report claims.
Energy charities National Energy Action (NEA) and Energy Action Scotland said the severe weather caused a huge surge in preventable deaths among the frail and elderly, and left health and social care services “creaking at the seams”.
They said the particularly cold spell between 28 February and 3 March, at the height of what was dubbed “the Beast from the East”, also left thousands of vulnerable households stranded.
The charities said their research is based on feedback from front line agencies. They want to use their findings to ensure key lessons can be learned to save both lives and care services money this coming winter.
Dr Jamie-Leigh Ruse, principal author of the report and senior research and policy officer at NEA, said: “In England alone, between 1 January and 31 March 2018, an additional 15,544 deaths occurred.
“Most days in this period saw more deaths than the corresponding day than in any of the previous five years.
“One of the key causes was relevant strategic frameworks for cold weather planning or other key actions to reduce cold-related ill-health or deaths were not applied consistently across the UK nations or locally.”
They said this meant people were almost ten times more likely to die from a cold home than a road traffic accident. And even though other winters have been much milder, there are still approximately 9,700 premature deaths a year due to vulnerable people being unable to heat their homes adequately, if at all.
Dr Ruse added: “Beyond the scale of preventable premature deaths, hospital patients were being discharged before they were ready and without sufficient in-home checks.
“We heard frequent reports of vulnerable people being discharged to homes with no light or heat.
“This is despite national guidance to the contrary and this left many frail patients stuck in a cycle of being admitted to hospital, discharged only to be readmitted as a result of their poor housing conditions.
“With as many as one in 20 hospital admissions likely to follow these trends, no wonder health and care services were left creaking at the seams.”
The report also notes how volunteers and organisations worked round the clock to provide emergency support to low income families and elderly residents.
In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales the report calls for the development of comprehensive national Cold Weather Plans similar to that in England produced by Public Heath England.