A plea for more up to date figures on winter deaths has been sounded as health services gear up for colder weather and increased flu.

Stockton Council receives information on winter deaths from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and Public Health England (PHE).

But the latest verified figures available to the council are only from 2015/16 – leaving out the effects of the severe weather of last winter.

Cllr Jim Beall, cabinet member for adult social care, wanted to know why it was taking so long at the latest Stockton Adult Social Care Partnership.

He said: “The figures are obviously two years behind time – is there any way of speeding it up?

Out-of-date death figures hinder flu plans
Out-of-date death figures hinder flu plans (Image: PA)

“I know health statistics do take some time to come through but we are working on data from not last winter but the winter before to see where we’re going.

“It doesn’t help us see if we’re getting it right.”

Dr Tanja Braun, from Stockton Council’s public health team, agreed it would take a while – but explained the 10 year trend was more important to track, rather than year to year variations.

Stockton has had higher winter deaths than the regional average since 2011/12

All English regions saw a rise in winter deaths between 2015/16 and 2016/17, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) – with one third of deaths caused by respiratory diseases.

But figures for each local authority have not yet been released for 2016/17 or last year.

Earlier, Dr Braun told the panel how teams were bracing themselves for the “higher rate of death and illness” which comes with colder weather.

She said: “We know when temperatures fall below 6C – not 0C – we see a rise in excess winter deaths in the population.

“Stockton has higher death figures than the national and regional average – the data is only from 2015/16 and takes a while to publish but we have seen quite a number of excess deaths in recent years.”

Dr Braun said elderly people were more vulnerable to the cold “regardless of their social background” – but deaths were linked to “poorly heated housing” and “low incomes”.

Winter also brings an increase in flu deaths

Vaccinations are available for those aged 65 and older, pregnant women and as well as children up to age 10.

The national scheme also immunises front-line health, social care staff and, for the second year running, it will immunise hospice and care home staff against the virus.

Dr Braun said: “Despite all the discussion around it, immunisation is the best approach we have.

“There is no alternative – other than going to really remote places.”

FLU IMMUNISATION COVERAGE OF AT RISK INDIVIDUALS 2017/18 (source: Public Health England)

  • Stockton – 49.7%
  • Middlesbrough – 45.9%
  • Redcar and Cleveland – 51.1%
  • Hartlepool – 49.9%
  • North East average – 49.9%
  • England average 48.9%

Dr Braun added more than 370 front line social care staff had been immunised already and the council’s Warm Homes Healthy People (WHHP) campaign was entering its eighth year on the back of helping 287 households in 2017/18.

And Cllr Beall said it was a chance to promote the concept of “every contact counts”.

He added: “Lots of people go into people’s homes and households – they are the people who can help prevent people getting ill.

“It does not take much to spot a cold home.”

Under the national flu vaccination programme the following groups are eligible:

  • All children aged 2 and 3 years
  • All children in reception class and school years 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
  • All primary school-aged children in former primary school pilot areas
  • People aged 6 months to under 65 years in clinical risk groups
  • All pregnant women
  • People aged 65 years and over
  • People living in long-stay residential care homes or other long-stay care facilities
  • Carers and household contacts of immunocompromised individuals
  • Frontline health and social care staff

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