A number of times we have been told that ‘Bath has the highest level of excess winter deaths in the UK’. Excess winter deaths are excess death rates in the winter over the summer most likely caused by cold weather. The explanation provided by those quoting high figures for Bath is that Bath has a large number of hard to heat homes? We therefore decided to investigate if the rumours of high excess winter mortality are true.
Using government statistics of B&NES’s ranking relative to other local authorities it appears that Bath over the last 20 years is ‘about average’ . The graph below plots B&NES’s ranking versus other local authorities and on average it sits half way in the rankings, characterised by the red trend line:
However, during 2006 and 2007 it rose towards the top of the ranking when it was rated as number 16 and number 7 worst local authority. Given our location in the south west this is potentially significant, but we can’t find an explanation for the cause of the problem.
One explanation might be that the weather was unusually cold relatively in the south west during those 2 years, but this theory is dispelled by looking at a graph of neighbouring authorities:
It doesn’t appear that our neighbours suffered from a problem in those years, so its probably not temperature related. Evidence also exists that excess winter deaths are lower in Finland but higher in Portugal which suggests it is probably not a factor.
Another explanation is that Bath has an older population than for example Bristol which might be a cause?
Graph from supplied by Helen Tapson of B&NES Council suggests there is actually an inverse relationship between cold and winter deaths:
And yet another graph shows that the most excess deaths occur when there is the highest difference between summer and winter temperatures:
It could just be because B&NES is a relatively small area that the data is just very noisy?
Bath is about average for excess winter deaths. It is not however clear to us why there was a significant increase in winter deaths relative to other local authorities in 2006 to 2008. Academic research suggests income inequality, health expenditure, deprivation, fuel poverty and poor thermal housing standards might be causes of the problem – there are higher levels of excess winter deaths in Portugal for example than in the UK which in turn has higher levels than Finland.
We would however be interested in your thoughts and ideas on the subject: firstname.lastname@example.org .
1. “Energy efficiency and excess winter deaths: Comparing the UK and Sweden” – ACE, Nov 2013 – the UK has high levels of fuel poverty, poorly insulated homes, lower building standards
2. ACE Fact File: The Cold man of Europe – March 2013 - why the UK’s housing stock leads to high levels of winter deaths and fuel poverty
3. “Excess winter mortality in Europe: a cross country analysis identifying key risk factors“, Healy, Nov 2002; causes: income inequality, health expenditure, deprivation, fuel poverty and poor thermal housing standards