SHOCK new figures today reveal 130 pensioners died across Sunderland because they couldn’t keep warm enough.
Campaigners say older people are needlessly dying in the city because they are so scared of rising fuel prices, they stop using their heating for months at a time.
Now, concerns are growing this winter could be the worst in Wearside’s recent history.
Support charities today branded the figures “scandalous”.
Today, the Echo can reveal:
l An 84-year-old Wearside woman who lived for months without heating and hot water because she couldn’t afford to get her boiler fixed.
l Pensioners so worried about getting into debt, they are risking their lives by turning off their heating.
l Older couples going without food so they can heat their homes during the winter season.
Alan Patchett, director of Age UK Sunderland, said: “It’s absolutely scandalous that in this day and age, older people are needlessly dying because they are too frightened to turn their heating on.”
Figures obtained by the Echo show that excess winter deaths – those over and above the annual rate – among the over 65s is on the rise.
The figure had stood at 76 for a number of years but increased to 120 between 2010/2011. Now, latest statistics show a jump of eight per cent to 130 for 2011/2012. Concerns have been raised that this winter might be even worse as people struggle to pay household bills and wide-scale fuel price hikes begin to bite.
Age UK Sunderland say they are hearing an increasing number of stories of those left ill through lack of warmth.
Mr Patchett said: “While the cold might not kill, it has an effect on existing health issues like heart disease and lung disease which, in turn, can bring on strokes.”
Flu is also a major killer among the elderly during the winter months.
Mr Patchett added: “People are struggling to pay general household bills at the minute and they’re genuinely frightened of getting into debt if they turn the heating on.
“They think that going to sleep in a cold bedroom is acceptable, because they’ll be asleep and won’t feel the cold, when the reality is very different.”
One 84-year-old pensioner told how she spent months without heating or hot water because her boiler was broken. In the end, she resorted to climbing into her loft and trying to fix the boiler herself.
The latest figures have been released amid concerns the city’s A&E department will be placed under strain as pensioners and vulnerable families are forced to choose between “heating and eating”, putting their health at risk. A spokesman for City Hospitals Sunderland said: “We fully support Age Concern’s advice to older people about keeping warm in the cold weather.
“We would also ask that older people and their families think carefully about accessing the right kind of NHS services if they are unwell.
“Hospital emergency departments (A&Es), as the name implies, are for ‘emergencies’, and we would ask local people, where they can, to consider alternatives so that the most serious conditions which need specialist treatment are provided with the urgent care they need.”
With all the major energy companies already having announced hikes to bills, the concern now is that more elderly people than ever will put themselves at risk.
Government advisor Derek Lickorish, chairman of the Fuel Poverty Advisory Group, said: “It is immoral that so many of the poorest pensioners, families and disabled people may put their health at risk because they are afraid of the cost of turning their heating on this winter.
“In the rush by all politicians to take action on energy prices, it is essential that those who need help the most aren’t left losing out.”