31/10/2008

Elderly 'Out Cold'

Shocking statistics have shown that - even in this 21st Century - old people in Northern Ireland still die from the effects of cold weather.

Just under 10 old age pensioners are killed by the cold in Northern Ireland every year and another 35 elderly people end up in hospital annually because of the effects of freezing weather.

The figures come as temperatures plummeted below zero in an early cold snap this week, raising fears that more vulnerable people will be left to shiver in their own homes as the winter comes early and the credit crunch bites.

While many pensioners and low-income families are already struggling with vastly increased heating bills because of the massive jump in energy prices and the economic downturn - this week has seen prolonged power cuts in the east of Belfast causing great hardship, mainly to older people.

According to local MLA Robin Newton, (pictured) the power cuts left many pensioners with no heat over the past two days.

"These electricity supply failures have occurred in the Hillsborough Drive/Gardens, Loopland areas and power has been on/off for the past two days.

"Having visited a number of those left in the dark and without the means of making a cup of tea never mind a hot meal they are angry and fed-up with NIES," he said.
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"The past two days have been the worst but over the past four weeks they have suffered a number of power failures with little information being given to the residents," he said, noting that Northern Ireland Electricity must give this matter a major priority and devote the resources to solve the problem.

"Their customers, especially the elderly and young families, cannot be allowed to suffer further hardship," he concluded.

Already, the combination of very cold weather and the high cost of heating has led to fears that many will try to cut down on heating their homes and will therefore be at risk from the cold.

The statistics were revealed in an answer by NI Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to an Assembly question from DUP peer Lord Morrow.

The official Department of Health figures showed that nine pensioners died of the cold in 2005 and 2006, while eight succumbed in 2007.

Their death certificates recorded hypothermia, or an extreme drop in body temperature, as a cause of death.

In 2005, 36 people were admitted to hospital with hypothermia, while in 2006 that shot up to 42, dropping to 30 last year.

The figures have led to calls for the Assembly to act now before more people die as winter proper sets in.

A spokeswoman for the charity, Age Concern, said older people here were increasingly vulnerable, leaving many with a choice to "heat or eat".

She said: "Northern Ireland has the highest rate of fuel poverty in the United Kingdom."

(BMcC)

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