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Cold Homes Week campaign launched to cut the number of ‘excess winter deaths’ as temperatures drop

By Cambridge News  |  Posted: February 03, 2014

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Excess winter deaths are defined as deaths which register above the average death rate for non-winter periods – mainly due to elderly people dying in low temperatures.

In Cambridgeshire alone, there were 280 ‘excess winter deaths recorded in 2012, and a new campaign is calling for more to be done to prevent them.

Cold Homes Week, which starts today, aims to raise awareness about fuel poverty and enlist the help of local politicians and authorities to make homes much more energy efficient.

In the UK, there are currently one in five households living in fuel poverty, with anyone who spends more than 10 per cent of their income on energy to keep warm falling into that category.

One of the supporters of Cold Homes Week is OFTEC, the trade body for the oil-fired heating industry, and it is urging residents in Cambridgeshire, regardless of the fuel they use to heat their homes, to visit energybillrevolution.org and email their MP.

The county has about 17,000 households which rely on oil for their central heating, with those properties tending to be rural and having inefficient heating systems and poor insulation.

Martin Abbs, of Swavesey heating company M & J Abbs Ltd, said: “Proportionally, more older people live in rural areas than in towns and therefore use oil for their central heating.

“They are also potentially more at risk of living in fuel poverty as their homes may lack sufficient insulation and rely on older, inefficient boilers.

“By encouraging as many people as possible to support Cold Homes Week and to take action by emailing their MP, together, a long-term solution to the country’s high level of fuel poverty could be a step closer.”

The EBR will petition the Government this week to invest in better insulation for homes by asking that money raised through carbon taxes be used to provide better insulation grants, in the hope of reducing the number of excess winter deaths which last year reached a national high of over 30,000.

Temperatures are expected to remain low in East Anglia in the coming weeks, and health experts at Cambridgeshire County Council say the focus must be on keeping warm and healthy, although there is no need to break the bank in doing so.

The authority has offered five tips to keep people, particularly the vulnerable, healthy and out of hospital during the cold snap.

1. Heat the home well

Heat the home to the right temperature. The living room should be 21C (70F) and the rest of the house should be 18C (65F). Any more than this and people may be wasting money, and any less and there is a risk to health.

2. Get financial support

Grants, benefits and sources of advice are available to make the home more energy efficient, improve the heating or help with bills.

3. Eat well and have plenty of fluids

Food and water are vital sources of energy, keeping the body warm. People should make sure they and their family have hot meals and drinks regularly throughout the day.

4. Get a flu jab

Certain groups can get a free flu jabs to protect against seasonal flu, including the over 65s, pregnant women, people with an on-going illness or if someone is the main carer of an elderly or disabled person

5. Look after yourself and others

On cold days try to avoid going outside. If you need to venture out, wrap up warm and take care on slippery surfaces. Look out for an older neighbour or relative during this winter to make sure they are safe and well.

Dr. Liz Robin is the council’s director of public health.

She said: “Cold weather is a particular risk for the health of older more frail people, for those with heart and breathing difficulties or an on-going illness.

“In Cambridgeshire, there are at least an additional 250 deaths linked to cold weather.

“Icy ground is a problem as it can lead to slips and falls that might cause broken bones.”

Cllr Tony Orgee, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, added: “It’s really important that people heed the five tips. People should also look out for neighbours, friends and relatives who are disabled or elderly. You can make a real difference by picking up shopping or medicines so the vulnerable don’t have leave their homes.”

For details and help, call the council on 0345 045 5202 or email referral.centreadults@cambridgeshire.gov.uk. In an emergency outside office hours, call (01733) 234724.

Dr Emma Tiffin is a GP at Woodlands Surgery in Bateman Street, Cambridge.

She said: “It’s really important to keep warm and healthy during the winter months, particularly for those who are frailer, have a long term illness or have heart or breathing problems.

“Ahead of a cold snap we advise patients to ensure their prescriptions are up to date and they have a fully stocked medicine cabinet.

“It’s also not too late to have the flu jab, which is available at local GP surgeries and pharmacies.

“We also ask for local residents to look out for neighbours or relatives who are elderly or in poor health and make sure they are safe and well.”

She added: “At this time of year it’s key that patients Choose Well and choose the right health services for their health problem.

“A&E should only be used by people who have critical or life threatening problems, then urgent treatment can be given quicker.”

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