HC Deb 26 January 1993 vol 217 cc862-3
7. Mr. Wicks

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is her estimate of the relative number of deaths of those aged 75 years and over in (a) the summer and (b) the winter; what comparable figures she has for other European nations; and what assessment has been made of the causes of any difference in the figures.

Mr. Yeo

Figures from 1988 to 1992 for England and Wales in respect of people aged 75 and over indicate that, on average, some 55 per cent. of all deaths have occurred in the winter period —October to March. There are no readily available comparable figures for other European nations. Evidence suggests, however, that there are significant variations in winter mortality across Europe, although the reasons for these discrepancies are not yet fully understood.

Mr. Wicks

Is the Minister not aware that facts published in his Department's journal "Health Trends" provide European and international comparisons? Is it not the case that, sadly, these reveal that we are top of the European winter deaths league? These facts are well known. Will the Minister take action to end the annual cold war on Britain's pensioners?

Mr. Yeo

To the extent that the published figures mean anything at all—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—they show that Portugal is at the top of the European league, substantially higher than Britain. Given his background, the hon. Gentleman ought to know that the pattern of a higher death rate in winter is a long-established trend. The excess of winter deaths over summer deaths was higher in the winter of 1978–79 than it was in the winter of 1991–92. Therefore, it is difficult to lay blame at the Government's door.

Mr. John Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the great advantages of being old in Britain is free access to our national health service? Does he further agree that a great many of the thousands of extra patients who have been treated since the Government's health reforms were implemented are elderly? That is why the vast majority of our pensioners support the NHS and think that it provides a wonderful service.

Mr. Yeo

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The results can be seen in the substantial fall in the number of deaths from hypothermia. Our older people benefit not only from the national health service but from advice under our "Keep warm, keep well" campaign which tells them about a wide range of matters, including benefits and insulation. A relevant factor in our success in helping old people in winter is that 67 per cent. of households containing older people have central heating. That is three times the percentage of 20 years ago.