Official figures show that in the first three weeks of last month, 4,206 more deaths were recorded than the average for the past five years. Experts say the death rate is linked to the cold weather and that at least 1,000 extra deaths are expected to have been recorded in the last week of March.
Pensioners accounted for the majority of those passing away.
Shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne said:
“When winter weather bites we’ve all got a responsibility to look in on older neighbours and relatives. Older people need to keep warm but soaring gas and electricity prices are making this harder than it should be.”
Mr Gwynne said that social care services were struggling after more than £1.3 billion was cut from council budgets for care of the elderly.
“Families are being left without adequate support for their loved ones,” he added.
“Ministers need to make sure that older people are getting the care they need.”
The Department of Health said it was concerned to see an increase in deaths but said the figures were provisional and should be treated with caution.
It also emphasised that an additional £330 million was provided this winter for NHS and social care services.
The death toll in one week alone, that ending March 22, was more than 1,600 higher than normal at 11,075. This included a rise in deaths of more than 150 in London and the South-East compared with the five-year past average.
The figures reveal that while the appalling death toll of lambs has been widely reported, the death toll among pensioners has been far higher. The overall death toll in the first three weeks of March was 33,500, compared with a previous average of 29,294 in recent years.
Amid the grim figures, there was more positive news on the economic front. The UK’s services sector grew more strongly than expected in March despite the freezing weather, suggesting the economy may narrowly avoid slipping back into recession.
Services recorded an activity reading of 52.4 in March — above the 50 mark which separates expansion from contraction, the Markit/CIPS purchasing managers index showed.
The figure is above the 51.8 reading in February and is the strongest in seven months from a sector which makes up more than three-quarters of the economy.
This article first appeared in the London Evening Standard on 4th April 2013