Older people and those with long-term health problems have been urged to keep warm as the temperature drops by a new campaign designed to prevent winter illnesses.
The Stay Well This Winter campaign, launched today by NHS England and Public Health England, also advises consuming hot food and encourages those eligible to have their flu vaccination.
Yorkshire MP Dan Jarvis welcomed the drive – but said it was a “sticking plaster approach” to the thousands of excess winter deaths each year.
According to the NHS, around 25,000 more people die each winter compared to other times of the year, with 80 per cent among people with circulatory diseases such as heart disease, lung illnesses and stroke, dementia and respiratory diseases.
However latest available figures show there were 43,900 excess winter deaths in England and Wales in 2014/15, the highest number since 1999/2000. The majority, 36,300, occurred among people aged 75 and over.
Mr Jarvis, Labour MP for Barnsley Central, has campaigned over the “national scandal” of excess winter deaths and criticised the Government’s “failure” to draw up an effective strategy to tackle the issue.
He welcomed the latest awareness drive but said it did not go far enough: “I think it’s a good idea, but it’s something of a sticking plaster approach,” he said.
“Whilst these individual initiatives are highly commendable and worthwhile, what the Government should be doing is drawing them all together in a proper strategy which works across Government and seeks to work more directly with local Government to reduce the number of people who die as a result of the cold each year,” he said.
“To me it is simply unacceptable that anybody in this country should die as a result of the cold, but the figures for the last year on record show that 44,000 people did so.
“By their very nature, these deaths are preventable.”
Exposure to cold temperatures increases blood pressure, thereby increasing the risk of heart failure, kidney disease, stroke or dementia.
The cold can also make blood more likely to clot, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke, and reduces the lung’s ability to fight off infection.
Research shows that for every 1 degree centigrade drop below 5 degrees in outdoor average temperatures, there is more than a 10 per cent increase in older people consulting their GP for breathing problems, almost a 1 per cent increase in emergency hospital admissions and a 3.4 per increase in deaths.
Prof Keith Willett, medical director for acute care at NHS England, said: “The NHS is here to help, but there are important things we can all do to take care of ourselves during the winter months.
“It is vital that the most vulnerable people take preventative steps to keep healthy and stay well.
“We have a high number of A&E attendances over this time that are due to issues which could have been avoided had people asked for medical advice at the first sign of illness.
“We are urging people to take practical steps such as to wrap up warm before the temperature dial hits freezing.”
A recent report by the The Local Government Association found that millions of visits to GPs for ailments such as colds and insect bites could be avoided by patients looking after themselves.