Action urged to cut winter deaths
More needs to be done to address the needs of thousands of people who die in their own homes because of the cold, health officials have warned.
More than 24,000 people die as a result of the cold each winter - three quarters of whom are over the age of 75 - the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said.
The cold weather can lead to more heart attacks, stroke, flu and respiratory disease.
The authority, which has developed new draft guidance to help prevent people becoming ill or dying in the winter, said year-round action is needed to tackle the problem.
It said that while there are services available to help people living in cold homes, they are "patchy". It has proposed a raft of measures to help reduce the risk of death and illness associated with living in a cold home.
The recommendations include a "one stop" health and housing referral service available to people who live in cold homes, which provide access to housing insulation and heating, more affordable fuel options and advice.
Meanwhile, health and social care workers should do more to identify those at risk. They should also ensure that vulnerable hospital patients are not discharged to a cold home.
And heating engineers, meter installers and those providing building insulation should be trained to help those at risk by being aware of who to call if there is a problem.
Professor Mike Kelly, director of the Centre for Public Health at Nice, said: "Although most causes of death and illness vary throughout the seasons, there is a clear increase during winter months.
"Around 24,000 additional people die during this time each year in England and Wales, mostly from cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. This is not just about extreme cold weather, but normal winter temperatures - when outdoor temperatures drop below 6C.
"Services to ensure people are warm enough at home already exist, but they are patchy across the country, and this lack of consistency makes it very difficult for professionals to know what support is available locally and how to get help for those who need it.
"This new draft guideline aims to help reduce these preventable deaths and ill health. Recommendations include identifying those at risk, ensuring that a referral can be made for insulation or heating improvements if necessary and raising awareness of local systems and services to help people who are living in homes that are too cold.
"People need to be aware of how the cold affects their health and where they can seek help if they need it."