– Frozen to death as fuel bills soar: Hypothermia cases among the elderly double in five years (Daily Mail, Feb. 13, 2012):
- 1,876 patients treated for hypothermia in 2010/11
- Hypothermia death toll within 30 days up from 135 to 260
- Coincides with a surge in energy prices
- Industry analyst estimates 8 out of 10 households ration energy use
- Age UK says a quarter of all pensioners live in fuel poverty
The number of pensioners dying from hypothermia has nearly doubled in five years, a period when a succession of cold winters has been coupled with drastic rises in energy bills.
The official figures emerged after several days of Arctic conditions which drove temperatures across the whole country as low as minus 10C (14F).
They showed that 1,876 patients were treated in hospital for hypothermia in 2010/11, up from 950 in 2006/07.
The number of sufferers who died within 30 days of admission shot up from 135 to 260.
Three-quarters of victims were pensioners, with cases soaring among the over-60s more than any other age group.
The increasing toll of hypothermia over the past five years coincides with a surge in energy costs, especially gas prices which have gone up by 40 per cent.
Soaring energy bills are pushing more and more pensioners into fuel poverty, forcing them to choose between heating and eating. One industry analyst, uSwitch, estimates that eight in ten households are already rationing their energy use and have called for a cut in VAT on power bills.
The row over energy prices is poised to be reignited later this month when the ‘big six’ energy companies reveal their latest profit figures.
Campaign groups said yesterday it was ‘scandalous’ that pensioners in modern Britain could be suffering from hypothermia.
Michelle Mitchell of Age UK urged the Government to take more action to protect those at risk of freezing to death.
‘We like to think of ourselves as a civilised society which protects the most vulnerable,’ she said. ‘The fact that there are still older people who are suffering and dying of hypothermia is deeply shocking.’
A survey carried out by Age UK last month found that half of pensioners have turned their heating down to save money even when they are not warm enough.
Many more are so cold they go to bed when they are not tired or move into one room to keep energy bills down.
Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops below 35C (95F) from its normal 37C (98.6F). Symptoms can include violent shivering, confusion, delirium and unconsciousness.
The statistics from the NHS Information Centre show that three-quarters of hypothermia cases are among the over-60s, and the increase in admissions has been the highest among this age group.
In 2006/07, there were 633 hypothermia admissions among the over-60s, rising to 1,396 in 2010/11. This is a rise of 120 per cent. There have, however, been increases across all age groups.
Among adults aged 15 to 59, cases have risen by 54 per cent to 276. There were 50 hypothermia cases among children aged 14 and under, a 22 per cent increase.
The figures on deaths are not broken down by age, but show that almost 20 per cent of those admitted die within 30 days. A further 6 per cent die between 30 and 90 days from admission.
Meanwhile, taking inflation into account, the price of gas has increased by 40 per cent in the last five years to 3.4p per kilowatt hour. Electricity prices have risen by 21 per cent to 11.8p per kilowatt hour.
This has led to a surge in the number of pensioners in ‘fuel poverty’, which means the costs of energy bills make up more than 10 per cent of the household budget.
Age UK says that more than three million older people in England – nearly 1.2million of whom live alone – are in fuel poverty. This total is a quarter of all pensioners and has trebled since 2003.
The elderly receive cold weather payments if the temperature falls below a certain level, but campaigners argue that the money is clearly not enough to stave off hypothermia in many cases.
The parent companies of Britain’s big six energy firms are expected to announce total profits of £15billion in the next few weeks, although UK consumers only contribute a small part of these profits as far as at least four of these firms are concerned – RWE nPower, E.ON, Iberdrola (Scottish Power) and EDF (France).
Ofgem, the energy regulator, says the average profit per customer in Britain was £100 last month but could fall in the summer months to £70.
Neil Duncan Jordan of the National Pensioners Convention described the expected profits figure as ‘scandalous’.
He said: ‘It is a graphic example of the failure to protect some of our most vulnerable individuals.’
Last night public health minister Anne Milton said: ‘We have introduced a Cold Weather Plan to reduce the number of deaths. We have also set up a Warm Homes and Healthy People Fund of £30million to pay for local authority projects to reduce effects of cold weather.
‘Winterwatch is also providing professionals and the public with updates and practical advice from the Chief Medical Officer.’
The Department of Health said the main cause of excess winter deaths was not hypothermia but heart and respiratory disease.