Scotland reports highest number of winter deaths in over thirty years
Scotland has reported the highest number of winter deaths in over thirty years, with 24,427 deaths registered between December 2022 and March 2023, according to statistics published by National Records of Scotland.
The statistics also show a seasonal increase of 4,137 additional deaths in winter, from December to March, compared with the non-winter periods. While this increase is considerably larger than the previous winter, it is lower than the recent winters of 2017/18 and 2020/21.
Daniel Burns, head of vital events statistics at National Records of Scotland, said: “Today’s figures show that deaths in winter are at their highest level since 1989/90. The longer-term downward trend shows a recent increase in winter deaths, which may be partly driven by Scotland’s ageing population.
“Winter months generally see more deaths than other times of the year, however the seasonal increase in winter mortality fluctuates year on year.
“Older age groups are consistently the most affected by increased mortality in winter. For people aged 85 and over, there were 29% more winter deaths compared to 12% in the under 65 population.”
The cause of death with the largest seasonal increase was dementia and Alzheimer’s disease accounting for 640 additional deaths. There were 310 additional deaths as a result of COVID-19 during this time. Since 2019, fewer than ten deaths per year were directly due to cold weather, for example hypothermia.
Age Scotland has said it is “extremely concerned” by the new figures which represent the highest number of winter deaths since 1989/90.
An Age Scotland spokesperson commented: “The scale of winter deaths last year is extremely concerning, marking the highest we have seen in Scotland for 30 years.
“The combination of the cost-of-living crisis, pressures on health and social care services, and spikes in flu and Covid-19 have had a severe impact, particularly on older people.
“We’re aware that many older people have faced difficulty accessing the health and social care they need, which may have led to conditions becoming more severe due to delays in diagnosis and treatment.
“Many have also struggled to meet the increasing cost of heating their homes to a safe level, increasing the risk of serious medical emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes.”
They added: “The cause of death with the largest seasonal increase was dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, highlighting the ongoing importance of early diagnosis, preventative social care, access to self-directed support and appropriate post-diagnostic support, including community-based support, for those living with dementia.
“As we approach what will undoubtedly be another difficult winter, especially considering the ongoing impact of the cost of living crisis and the potential risks to health this poses, health and social care staff must have the resources and support they need to cope with demand for services.
“We hope the today’s winter resilience plan from the Scottish Government will go some way to ease pressures and provide reassurance. In the longer term, it’s clear we need to carefully consider how we plan to meet the needs of a rapidly ageing population as a matter of priority.”