Cold homes ‘ten times more dangerous than roads’ during severe weather

People in the UK were ten times more likely to die from a cold home than a road accident during last winter’s cold snap due to poor planning and a lack of national resources, two energy charities have warned.

National Energy Action (NEA) and Energy Action Scotland (EAS) said the severe weather brought by ‘the Beast from the East’, caused a huge surge in preventable deaths among the frail and elderly, and left health and social care services “creaking at the seams”.

A report from the charities has concluded that lessons must be learned to save lives and money in future.

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.”

Based on feedback from frontline agencies, the report found that even during mild winters, 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 EAS added: “While it was welcome to see voluntary and community organisations stepping up, we need to learn from this dire experience.”

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.

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