## Wednesday, 4 February 2015

### Excess winter deaths: A question of definition.

From The Telegraph:

The cold weather death toll this winter is expected to top 40,000, the highest number for 15 years.

The figures were described as a “tragedy for the elderly” by campaigners who warned that not enough was being done to protect pensioners from unnecessary deaths in cold weather.

The ONS publish statistics on 'excess winter mortality', and they explain the concept thusly:

The ONS standard method defines the winter period as December to March, and compares the number of deaths that occurred in this winter period with the average number of deaths occurring in the preceding August to November and the following April to July:

EWM = winter deaths - average non-winter deaths

Fair enough, that tells us how many more deaths there are during winter, largely down to the cold etc.

But are they really 'excess'?

It's the same question as with holidays. Are holidays the normal price during school holidays, and at a discounted price out of season; or is the out of season price the normal price, with a premium being charged during the school holidays?

You could just as well argue that the death rate during winter is normal and publish statistics on "insufficient spring, summer and autumn deaths".

To my mind it makes more sense to:

a) Compare the number of winter deaths with the number of deaths for all months of the year, not just non-winter months. If spring, summer and autumn are particularly mild (not too hot, not too cold) then more people who would otherwise have died will make through to the next winter, at which stage they pop off. This adjustment would reduce the official number of winter deaths by one-third.

b) Compare the number of 'excess' winter deaths for any year with the long run average of 'excess' winter deaths. The long run average is officially 28,000 which we can reduce by one-third to 21,000. This year's EWD's of forecast 40,000 are 26,000 when reduced by one-third, which is 'only' 5,000 more than the adjusted long run average.

Just sayin' is all. And don't forget to wrap up warm and avoid icy patches.

View from the Solent said...

"But are they really 'excess'?" Nope. Comparing chalk and cheese as you point out.
Are there similar figures for the number of excess deaths from drowning during the summer months?