The number of deaths linked to cold weather fell dramatically last winter, despite Britain experiencing one of the biggest freezes for decades, according to official statistics released.
The Office for National Statistics found there were 25,400 “excess winter deaths” in England and Wales between December 2009 and March 2010 – 30% down on the previous winter when the weather was milder.
The figures were released as weather forecasters predicted bitterly cold weather and possible heavy snowfall later this week.
The Office for National Statistics said that the relatively low number of excess deaths – calculated by comparing winter mortality rates with levels during warmer months – in 2009-10 may be due to low levels of flu.
But campaigners from the National Pensioners Convention said that the figures still suggested that nine elderly people died every hour last winter.
The ONS said that over-75s made up the bulk of the 10,600 male and 14,800 female excess deaths.
NPC general secretary Dot Gibson urged the Government to guarantee the winter fuel payment will remain at its current level of up to £400.
“Since 1997, we have lost over 300,000 pensioners during the winter months because of cold-related illnesses, yet the Government seems incapable of acting,” said Ms Gibson.
ONS researcher Vanessa Fearn said: “Although the winter of 2009-10 was the coldest one since 1995-96, excess winter mortality fell by almost a third.
“This is maybe because levels of influenza were low for most of the winter season. The highest excess winter mortality in recent years was in 1999-2000 when influenza reached epidemic levels in a relatively mild winter.”