A damning Brussels report has shown that pensioners in Britain are more likely to die from flu or pneumonia than anywhere in Europe.
Official figures indicate that in excess of 80 Britons die from these diseases daily, which is 70% higher than the average in Europe.
In total, around 138 people in every 100000 in Britain die from ‘respiratory diseases’, including asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and influenza, every three years. This calculates to 88000 people or around 29000 annually.
Around 90% of those who die from flu and other respiratory illnesses are over the age of 65, which suggests that around 26000 British pensioners die from these preventable diseases on an annual basis.
According to the EU, poor public health campaigns warning the elderly to go for flu vaccines are to blame for those countries suffering high fatality rates.
During 2011, Andrew Lansley, the former health secretary, scrapped advertising the annual flu vaccination. After an increase in the number of deaths, the Department of Health reintroduced the annual campaign.
The charity director at Age UK, Caroline Abrahams, said the figures were very concerning and shows that there is a long road ahead to obtain the right care for older people suffering poor respiratory health or who are at high risk of infections, such as flu. She said it is important that the health service is able to meet the needs of frail older people and those with long term condition to help them remain as healthy as possible, particularly during winter.
Labour’s shadow health minister, Andrew Gwynne, said the deaths of the elderly because they cannot afford to heat their homes was a national scandal and should be ended. He said the promise from Labour to freeze energy bills will aid in protecting older people from poor health.
The report indicates that countries where many people smoke and former industrial areas generally have a higher death rate from flu and pneumonia.
The fact that Britain has the worst record for flu and pneumonia has been confirmed by Public Health England (PHE).
According to the head of seasonal flu surveillance at PHE, Dr Richard Pebody, these figures should be compared with caution as there are systematic differences in the manner in which clinicians complete death certificates.
He said that the figures may suggest that Britain has a high respiratory death rate, but it also shows that it has a low circulatory death rate. This implies that no positive conclusion can be drawn that the UK has a higher burden of disease because of flu.
The Government received criticism earlier this week for advising pensioners to protect against cold during this winter. They stated that pensioners struggling financially should only turn on their heat in a single room to keep warm, and should only heat their living room during the day and their bedroom during the night. PHE stated that they should take a hot water bottle to bed at night.
The cold weather which was experienced last year saw 31100 fatalities in Britain, mostly among those aged over 75.
According to Dot Gibson, the general secretary at the National Pensioners’ Convention, the same type of message is issued each year, but the number of older people drying from illnesses related to the cold weather is increasing. She said that adding an extra jumper or becoming more active does not address the issue that fuel bills continue to increase way above the pensions people receive.
Currently, the average household energy bill is around £1265 per annum, which is an increase of £53 a year ago.
The charity director at Age UK, Caroline Abrahams, said it is shocking that each winter sees the death of an older person every seven minutes due to the cold weather.
In reply, the head of extreme events and health protection at PHE, Dr Angie Bone, said thousands of lives could be saved if people were to follow the advice issued by the Government.
Children with asthma, pregnant women and pensioners are urged to get the flu vaccine to protect against this deadly disease.
The flu vaccine is available on an annual basis on the NHS. Although flu is an unpleasant illness, it usually clears up within one week if the person is healthy. However, some people may suffer more severe symptoms, which could be life-threatening.
The people most at risk are:
• Pregnant females
• People aged over 65
• Adults and children with weak immune systems
• Adults and children suffering an underlying health condition, such as long-term respiratory or heart disease
Those who fall into the high risk groups are likely to develop severe complications, such as pneumonia.
At-risk adults over the age of 18 and children aged six months to two years who are at risk can obtain the flu vaccine free of charge.
The best time to have the vaccine is during autumn. Those who are not viewed as being at high risk can still obtain the flu vaccine at a cost.
Image Credit: NIAID