National Records of Scotland

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Slight fall in number of winter deaths

Slight fall in number of winter deaths

Thursday, 27 Oct 2022
Demography news release image

22,055 deaths were registered in Scotland in the four months of winter 2021/22, a slight fall from the previous winter but still high in relation to recent years, according to statistics published today by National Records of Scotland.

The seasonal increase in mortality during winter was 1,320. This is calculated by comparing the number of deaths during the four months of winter with the average number of deaths for the four month periods preceding and following winter.

The number of deaths between August and November last year was relatively high and as a result the seasonal increase in winter 2021/22 is the second lowest recorded in the last 70 years. 

The causes of death with the largest seasonal increases last winter were dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (250 additional deaths), cerebrovascular disease (180), and coronary (ischaemic) heart disease, other circulatory system diseases and chronic lower respiratory disease (150 each). Coronavirus (COVID-19) was the underlying cause of 60 of the additional deaths. Very few deaths were directly due to cold weather, for example hypothermia.

The seasonal increase in mortality in winter is generally lower in Scotland than in the other UK countries. . In the latest year for which comparable figures are available (2020/21) the seasonal increase in Scotland was 23% - lower than England (37%) and Wales (32%) but slightly higher than in Northern Ireland (21%).

Julie Ramsay, Head of Vital Events Statistics at NRS, said:

“The seasonal increase in mortality can change substantially from winter to winter, but the long-term trend has clearly been downward. In the 1950s and 60s there was an average seasonal increase of over 5,200 deaths in winter, whereas over the most recent decade it has averaged around 2,600.

“Older age groups are consistently the most affected by increased mortality in winter. For people aged 85 and over, there were 9% more deaths than the months before and after winter, compared to 5% more winter deaths in the under 65 population.”
The full ‘Winter Mortality’ publication is available from the NRS website.  It shows the seasonal increase in mortality recorded each winter in Scotland, broken down by age group, sex, cause of death, Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation quintile, NHS Board, and Local Authority area.  

The seasonal increase in mortality in the winter represents the number of additional deaths in winter. It is defined as the difference between the number of deaths in the four month winter period (December to March and the average number of deaths in the two four month periods which precede winter (August to November) and follow winter (April to July).  It is also sometimes referred to as ‘excess winter deaths’ or ‘excess winter mortality’.

To account for differences in population size, seasonal increases for different areas are better compared using the Increased Winter Mortality Index (IWMI).  This is defined as the number of additional winter deaths divided by the average number of deaths in a four month non-winter period, expressed as a percentage. 

Media enquiries should be directed to:
Donna Green
NRS Communications
Tel: 07775-027-380
Email: [email protected]     

Further information about the statistics is available from:
NRS Customer Services
Email: [email protected]