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Public Policy Exchange
Addressing Cold Weather Planning: How to Protect the Most Vulnerable and the NHS

Tue 13th April 2021 - Tue 13th April 2021, Online


On average, cold–related deaths constitute the biggest weather–related source of mortality in the UK. This is due to cold weather exacerbating pre–existing conditions, such as those affecting the respiratory and circulatory systems, dementia and Alzheimer’s. The Office for National Statistics has estimated 28,300 excess winter deaths (EWD) occurred in England and Wales in winter 2019/20, which was 19.6% higher than in winter 2018/19. Data for 2020 to 2021 has not yet been released, but the coronavirus pandemic will have undoubtably heightened the winter death–toll. With hospitals likely to be dealing with coronavirus throughout 2021 and into 2022, cold weather planning and reducing other sources of burdens on the NHS is therefore crucial to preventing avoidable excess deaths. 

The 2015 Cold Weather Plan (CWP) aims to increase awareness amongst the public. While this year’s CWP remained unchanged from 2019–2020, the government also introduced a COVID–19 plan of action. This outlined the risk factors that are shared across cold weather and COVID–19, which may amplify an individual’s risk to both hazards, as well as the important indirect effects of the pandemic. For instance, most people are now spending more time at home than usual. This has led to a higher demand for energy and increased associated energy costs, and, with that an increase in the number of people living in fuel poverty. For many, it is the first time they are experiencing fuel poverty, so raising awareness of the funds and resources available to help them is crucial. Other important aspects include the reduced access to warm public spaces, which especially effects the homeless population.

Nevertheless, it is expected that there will be a continuing and growing strain, both, on the local authority budget to prepare for cold weather, as well as on the NHS. In December 2020, a further £80m in funding was announced to support winter workforce pressures. But with the UK deficit now hitting £270bn, it is uncertain whether this level of funding will be provided next year. Moreover, without knowing the state of the pandemic heading into the 2021/22 winter it will be challenging to balance the focus on people versus infrastructure. One needs only to look to Texas and see how ineffective planning and extreme cold weather can have dramatic effects. Changes to the climate are predicted to make extreme weather events, including cold snaps, more likely in years to come and therefore local authorities and national governments will need to devise more cost effective means to deal with this issue.

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9:30 AM — 1:00 PM