Increased Winter Mortality (Excess Winter Deaths)

The Increased Winter Mortality (Excess Winter Deaths) figure for Scotland in 2016/17 was 2,720.

Increased Winter Mortality or Excess Winter Deaths are recorded by the National Records of Scotland (NRS). 

There is no single cause of 'additional' deaths in winter. Very few are caused by hypothermia. Most are from respiratory and circulatory diseases such as pneumonia, coronary heart disease and stroke. In only a small proportion of deaths is influenza recorded as the underlying cause.

The seasonal increase in mortality in the winter has been defined as the difference between the number of deaths in the four 'winter' months (December to March) and the average of the numbers of deaths in the two four month periods which precede winter (August to November) and follow winter (April to July).

Statistics of the seasonal increase in mortality in the winter inform public debate and the development of government policy on matters such as the health of the elderly population, fuel poverty and whether there is a need to improve the housing stock in terms of central heating and thermal insulation.

A separate document, Increased Winter Mortality - Background Note, published in October 2010 (available on the NRS website), gives information about some of the medical causes of the seasonal increase in mortality in the winter, describes some research studies' findings on factors that influence it, reports on a comparison of the figures for a number of European countries, mentions previous publications on this topic, and provides references to the sources of the material.

The main points to note are:

  • high cold-related mortality is associated with low indoor temperatures, and with people not wearing appropriate clothing when outdoors in cold weather;
  • increased winter mortality was at the same level in Scotland as the overall mean for the 14 European countries covered by a comparative study; and
  • the seasonal increase in mortality in the winter is higher in countries with a warmer winter climate, probably because their homes tend to be poorly insulated and their populations tend not to dress well for cold weather.

Key documents:

The annual statistics are available here from the NRS. The increased winter mortality (Excess Winter Deaths) figure for Scotland in 2016/17 was 2,720.

The archive on increased winter mortality is available here.

The Occasional Paper (published in April 2002) on "The Raised Incidence of Winter Deaths" is here

Key facts:

  • There were 20,930 deaths registered in Scotland in the four months of winter 2016/17 (December to March), compared with 20,509 in winter 2015/16.
  • Comparing the number of deaths in the four winter months with the average for the two adjacent four-month periods, the seasonal increase in mortality in winter 2016/17 was 2,720. This was 130 fewer than the corresponding value of 2,850 for the previous winter.
  • The seasonal increase in mortality has been calculated for every winter from 1951/52. The seasonal increase of 2,720 in winter 2016/17 was smaller than in most of the previous 65 winters, but exceeded the level seen in 10 of the previous 20 winters, and in 5 of the previous 10 winters.
  • The long-term trend in the seasonal increase in mortality in the winter has clearly been downward: although there have been unusually large figures in some years (including 4,060 in winter 2014/15, which had the largest value since winter 1999/2000), the height of the peaks has generally been falling.
  • The 5-year moving average, which smoothes out much of the year to year fluctuation, had tended to decline, but has risen recently (due to for example winter 2014/15 entering the calculation). While the latest value (2,646) is the thirteenth lowest ever, it is greater than 11 of the previous 12 values – but, in several cases, the difference is at most a couple of hundred. Overall, and broadly speaking, the 5-year moving average has not changed much since the early 2000s.
  • The latest 17 winters have had 7 out of the 10 lowest seasonal increases in mortality ever recorded. Over the 66 years covered by these statistics, the lowest seasonal increase in mortality was for winter 2011/12 (1,420), the second lowest was for winter 2013/14 (1,600), the third lowest was for winter 2005/06 (1,780), the fourth lowest was for winter 2001/02 (1,840), and the fifth lowest was for winter 2012/13 (2,000). The eighth and ninth lowest seasonal increases in mortality were for winter 2007/08 (2,180) and winter 2000/01 (2,220).