VULNERABLE households in Dorset continue to struggle as new government statistics reveal there were 730 excess winter deaths in the county during 2017/18 writes Martin Lea.

It is suggested this was partly caused by people living in cold and poorly insulated homes they can’t afford to heat properly.

Provisional figures for last winter (2018/19), currently only available by region, show that despite an overall fall across England and Wales, there were still 2,400 excess winter deaths recorded in the south west, demonstrating the scale of the crisis facing the region.

Excess winter deaths are defined as the difference between the number of deaths in the winter months (December to March) compared with the previous (August to November) and following (April to July) three months.

OFTEC, which represents the oil heating industry, claim the latest figures indicate a clear rural-urban divide, with rural parts of the country such as Dorset experiencing a disproportionally higher number of winter deaths. This is partly due to rural properties often being older, poorly insulated and harder to keep warm.

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Living in cold temperatures can lead to high blood pressure and lower the immune system which puts older and vulnerable people in particular at greater risk of developing flu, respiratory diseases or other winter illnesses.

With many families looking to save money following the festive season, households are being urged not to resort to turning down the thermostat but to take other steps to reduce their fuel bills. The advice includes:

• Keep the main living area heated to a temperature of at least 21 degrees

• Adjust your heating timers, particularly if these were changed over Christmas

• Bleed your radiators to ensure the heating system is running efficiently

• Turn off radiators in rooms you are not using

• Regularly check on vulnerable family, friends and neighbours

Households are also being reminded to have their heating system serviced annually to help prevent an expensive breakdown and to use a GasSafe (for mains gas) or OFTEC (for oil or solid fuel) registered technician to ensure all work is carried out safely.

Malcolm Farrow, from OFTEC, said: “It is deeply concerning to once again see such high levels of excess winter deaths across Dorset. Looking back over the past ten years, the figures reveal very little progress has been made in reducing the number of these largely preventable deaths and in many areas the situation has worsened.

“At the start of this new year, supporting the most vulnerable in society needs to be the government’s top priority. In particular, we must ensure that any new energy policies protect the vulnerable and do not place additional financial burden on those already struggling.”