Respiratory diseases including flu killed 34,000 people across England and Wales in 2016/17
Respiratory diseases, including flu, saw more than 34,000 people perish across England and Wales, official figures show.
The staggering number of extra deaths in the 2016/17 flu season is the second highest toll in the past five winters and a “significant increase” on the previous winter total of just over 24,000.
Public Health England has admitted that the flu jab given out last year was not significantly effective in protecting against influenza among over-65s.
An evaluation by the NHS found that overall, last year’s jabs offered 40 per cent protection in the UK, with no effectiveness in pensioners but offered the best protection among children.
2015/16 saw only 24,000 people die from respiratory diseases
These statistics highlight the impact flu can have, particularly on the oldest people in society
A recent study showed that this year’s vaccinations are unlikely to protect patients from the main strain which has dominated other parts of the world because of mutations in the H3N2 virus used to produce the vaccine.
This year’s jabs contain the same strain, which has dominated in the southern hemisphere, causing the worst flu season for almost two decades in Australia and New Zealand.
So far, flu levels in this country remain low, and no one strain has dominated.
But health officials are fearful of how services will cope if the patterns abroad are replicated here.
Flu levels currently remain low in the UK, and no one strain has dominated
The numbers of excess winter deaths were published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics.
ONS officials said the rise was “likely due to the predominant strain of flu prevalent during the 2016 to 2017 winter which had greater impact on the elderly than the young.”
It was the second highest number of excess winter deaths since 2008/09 when 36,450 additional deaths were recorded between December and March.
Janet Morrison, chief executive of the charity Independent Age, said: “These statistics highlight the impact flu can have, particularly on the oldest people in society.
“Despite this, it is extremely concerning that almost a third of older people who are entitled to a free flu jab still does not get it.
“The Government must do more to ensure there is greater uptake of the flu vaccine among older people if we are to effectively reduce the impact of illness on the most vulnerable people this winter.”
Last winter 12,500 excess deaths were caused by respiratory diseases.
More than 80 per cent of respiratory deaths were among those aged 75 and older. Women were more likely than men to be affected.
More than 80% of respiratory deaths were among those aged 75 and over last year
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: “The flu is a serious health hazard for older people, particularly for those who are frail or who have other conditions that undermine their resilience.
“We would encourage any older person to make sure they receive the jab every year as it offers valuable protection against the virus and anything that can be done to help prevent older people from contracting flu is worth doing.”
She added: “This dramatic jump in excess winter deaths is a terrible rebuke to anyone who thought it was ‘job done’ when it comes to keeping older people safe and sound through the winter.
“Remember that every one of these deaths was, by definition, preventable.
“We cannot run the risk of these figures getting even worse next year so the Government must take urgent action to address the underlying causes.”
The ONS said that of the estimated 34,300 excess winter deaths 57.6 per cent of these were among women.
Excess winter deaths are measured by comparing the number of deaths in the period between December to March with the average number of deaths in the four month periods before and after.
January saw the highest number of deaths each day.
In August 2016, when the average temperature across England and Wales stood at 16.7C [62F], the average number of daily deaths was 1,294.
But by January, when the mercury dipped to 3.9C [39F], 1,830 adults were dying every day.
ONS statistician Jodie Withers said: “While there has been an increase in excess winter deaths making the total the second highest over the last five winter periods, the number does not exceed the peak that was observed in the 2014 to 2015 winter period.
“The increase is likely due to the predominant strain of flu prevalent during the 2016 to 2017 winter which had greater impact on the elderly than the young.”
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Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement at Public Health England, said: “We know that more deaths occur every winter in the UK than in the summer due to a wide range of causes including cold weather, influenza and other respiratory infections.
“Older people are particularly affected by all these causes, and most deaths occur in people over 85.
“The flu vaccination is the best protection we have against flu and it’s really important to have it if you are eligible.
“In order to keep well this winter, heat your home to at least 18C, keep well stocked on essential food and medicine through the winter and wrap up warm with several layers when going outside.”