Covid-19 drives increase in winter deaths across Scotland

Coronavirus was the underlying cause of nearly two-thirds of the 4330 additional deaths last winter.

Covid-19 drives increase in winter deaths across Scotland iStock

Scotland recorded more than 23,000 deaths in the four months of winter 2020/21 during the coronavirus pandemic, the second-highest total in the last 30 years.

The number of deaths was 10% higher than the average of the previous five winters, according to the National Records of Scotland (NRS).

There were 23,270 deaths from December 2020 to March 2021, while the seasonal increase in mortality of 4330 was the second highest in more than two decades.

Only winter 2017/18 had a larger seasonal increase (4810) since winter 1999/2000.

Covid-19 was the underlying cause of nearly two-thirds, or 2850, of the 4330 additional deaths last winter.

The seasonal increase represents the number of “additional” deaths in winter. It is also referred to as “excess winter deaths” or “excess winter mortality’”

The other causes of death with the largest seasonal increases were dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and coronary (ischaemic) heart disease – both with 210 additional deaths each.

Very few deaths were directly due to cold weather, for example hypothermia.

Pete Whitehouse, director of statistical services at NRS, said: “’These figures show again the significant impact Covid-19 had on Scotland last winter.

“Compared to the average of the previous five winters, the winter of 2020/21 saw a 10% higher level of mortality, with the majority of additional deaths being due to Covid-19.”

The NRS said older age groups are consistently the most affected by winter mortality.

Last winter, of those aged 85 and over, there were 13 additional deaths per 1000 of the population, compared to fewer than one death per 1,000 amongst those aged under 65.

The seasonal increase in mortality in winter is generally lower in Scotland than in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland, said: “These stark figures show the devastating impact that Covid-19 had last winter, in particular on the older population. These are not just statistics, but each one will be desperately missed by their family and loved ones.

“While there were exceptional circumstances, these high numbers are still very concerning. It’s also very worrying to see the significant increases in deaths from dementia and heart disease.

“With the current fuel crisis and temperatures dropping, we are urging the UK and Scottish Governments to provide extra help to those most vulnerable this winter.”