A leading public health expert has warned that steep cost of living rises could spark a “public health crisis” this winter with a rise in excess deaths.

Professor Linda Bauld said poverty - including fuel poverty - had “significant health implications”.

Factors affecting winter mortality are varied and complex and figures fluctuate from year to year but there is a strong relationship between thermal standards in housing and  excess deaths. 

The UK has a much higher winter deaths rates than other countries with more severe winter climates including Scandinavia, implying that it is not outdoor exposure to cold that is the key determinant.

Prof Bauld, who is chair of public health at Edinburgh University,  said: “We know from history that when people lack access to basic resources including energy and food there are health implications. 

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“In relation to the current cost crisis, this has already been highlighted by the Royal College of Physicians and other health groups. 

“Cold, damp housing exacerbates respiratory conditions for adults and children and results in worsening of symptoms for a range of chronic conditions. 

Cost of living crisis could lead to rise in excess deaths  expert warns

“Not having enough money for transport means people can’t travel to appointments with health services or to collect prescriptions.”

Access to healthcare in an NHS struggling to recover from the pandemic could also be a concern for those with chronic or seasonal respiratory illnesses. 

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, warned yesterday that UK Government inaction on rising energy bills would "undoubtedly" lead to loss of lives.

Asked if fuel poverty could lead to a rise winter excess deaths Professor Graham Watt, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Health & Wellbeing, said it was a "no brainer."

He said many studies had shown a link between mortality and spikes of cold weather but more crucially, the effect is markedly worse in the UK than in other, colder countries.

Most deaths are from respiratory and circulatory diseases such as pneumonia, coronary heart disease and stroke. 

He said: “Heart attacks occur soon after cold snaps.

"Hospital admissions for respiratory illness take a week to ten days to register.

“This effect is markedly more in the UK than in Scandinavian countries despite their colder weather - which is usually interpreted in terms of the better insulation of their housing.

READ MORE: Cost of Living Crisis: Energy bills to hit £4000 this year 

“So whether it’s due to poorer insulation, or less internal heating because of fuel poverty, the UK is particularly exposed to this phenomenon.”

Glasgow’s Golden Generation said there was concern further rises in fuel costs might leave the charity unable to operate its network of day centres, which provide older people with hot meals in a warm environment.

Fiona Walker, Finance and Operations Director, said: “It’s August and our heating bills are already doubling despite being in the middle of a heatwave.

“As a charity we want to welcome as many older adults through our doors as possible but that comes at a price.

Cost of living crisis could lead to rise in excess deaths  expert warns

“Overwhelmingly we’re hearing that older adults are seeing a steep increase in energy costs.

“For someone who has retired and is perhaps vulnerable or frail, there’s no prospect of increasing their income through work or other means so the situation is already looking pretty desperate."

Age Scotland warned that elderly people will die because they can’t afford to eat or heat their homes.

Brian Sloan, chief executive of the charity, said: “As we get older, it can take us longer to warm up, while cold temperatures can exacerbate respiratory problems, heart disease and other health conditions. 

“We’ve repeatedly called on the Scottish and UK governments to take big steps to help older people, particularly those on lowest incomes or with health conditions.”

Dr Lewis Morrison, Chairman of BMA Scotland, added: “Access to good, warm housing is fundamental to health. 
“There is no doubt this will disproportionately affect those in more deprived areas and circumstances, further deepening health inequalities.”