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Fuel Poverty News

Pensioners face death from the cold this winter
14 Oct 2009

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Another winter is upon us. More will suffer as the latest social evil fuel poverty is on the increase. With this report on the Scottish Lothians comes fresh concerns.

There are fears the number of people dying as a result of the cold in the Lothians could hit a record high this winter as it was revealed that last year the death toll hit 420.

Fuel poverty and seasonal flu have been blamed for last winter's spike in deaths, and the vast majority of victims were aged over 65.

While the Met Office has predicted a milder winter this time round, there are fears that figure will rise again – though not because of swine flu.

The Scottish Government said it was concerned at the increase – which doubled from the previous year and was the highest in more than a decade – but added that the long-term trend pointed towards an improvement.

Dr Alasdair MacLullich, an expert in geriatric medicine at Edinburgh University, said the rising number of very elderly people, particularly the over-90s, would impact upon statistics significantly.

He said: "Everyone knows there is a growing elderly population, but there is a very significant rise in the over-85s and the over-90s every year. Many of these people will be frail and often in hospital, and this will continue to impact on the situation by virtue of the numbers in our society.

"Scotland is doing very well in caring for the elderly, but there is more that can be done. Fuel poverty will also be an issue; there are a high number of elderly people who are poor, and we shouldn't be in that situation as a society."

The rise in the Lothians mirrors a national increase, and is causing concern among health chiefs already worrying about an ageing population time-bomb.

Flu expert Dr Sheila Burns, an honorary clinical senior lecturer at Edinburgh University's school of biosciences and key figure in NHS Lothian's swine flu plans, said the threat of the new strain should not impact upon the number of elderly people losing their lives over the winter period. Instead, the elderly should guard against seasonal flu.

She said: "Older people are less at risk from the H1N1 virus. It is important (the elderly] are vaccinated against seasonal flu."

David Manion, chief executive of Age Concern and Help the Aged in Scotland said: "There has been a substantial increase in the number of people who died in winter.

"Affordability is a major factor, with high energy prices and the poor energy efficiency of much of Scotland's housing stock contributing significantly to fuel poverty, so more assistance must be made available."

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon, who last week launched the seasonal flu vaccination campaign in Edinburgh, said: "In a modern Scotland, it is unacceptable that winter should bring with it higher death rates."


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Source: Scotsman