Winter deaths in Scotland reach 18-year high

The number of winter deaths between December 2017 and March 2018 was the highest in Scotland for 18 years, according to new statistics.

Figures released by National Records of Scotland (NRS) show that a total of 23,137 deaths were registered across Scotland from December 2017 to March 2018, (winter 2017/18) compared with 20,946 in the previous winter (2016/17). It was the largest number since 23,379 deaths were registered in winter 1999/2000.

Known as the ‘seasonal increase in mortality’, the figures also show how much winter impacts on the mortality rate by comparing it to averages at other parts of the preceding year.

The figures show 4,800 ‘additional’ deaths in the 2017/18 winter, up from 2,730 in the 2016/17 winter, and the largest such figure since 5,190 in winter 1999/2000.

NRS statistics show that winter mortality can fluctuate from one year to the next, with some years seeing unusually large seasonal increases, such as the 4,060 in winter 2014/15.

There is no single cause of ‘additional’ deaths in winter. The underlying causes of most of the ‘additional’ deaths include respiratory system diseases (such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), circulatory system diseases (such as coronary heart disease and stroke), dementia, and Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases. Very few are caused by hypothermia and only a small proportion directly by influenza.

Anne Slater, chief executive of NRS, said: “There are always more deaths in the winter in Scotland than in any other season, but the long-term trend since the early 1950s has clearly been downward. However, the average value for the latest five years (which smoothes out much of the year-to-year fluctuation) is now above the level that had applied since the early 2000s. It is too soon to say whether there has been a change in the long-term trend: it could just be a short-term rise, like that seen roughly 20 years ago, after which the average fell for several years.”

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