Burton Hospital's chief nurse has issued an urgent warning to frail and elderly folk throughout the area to stay safe this winter after respiratory diseases claimed thousands of lives.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed there were more than 34,000 "excess deaths" across England and Wales over the last winter period, the second highest level in eight years.
The ONS said the rise "is likely due to the predominant strain of flu prevalent during the 2016 to 2017 winter which had greater impact on the elderly than the young" and has sparked health bosses to speak out about the dangers and risks posed to older residents.
Paula Gardner, chief nurse at Burton’s Queen’s Hospital, said: "Frail and elderly people are particularly vulnerable during the cold, winter months so it is important that they and their loved ones take extra precautions to avoid becoming sick.
"Getting the flu jab, which is free for anyone over the age of 65, is incredibly important while we also urge people to wrap up warm against the cold and stay hydrated.
"I would encourage the local community to look out for those more vulnerable members this winter, supporting them to stay well and seek help early if they do get an illness."
Last winter, 12,500 excess deaths were caused by respiratory diseases with 61.9 per cent more respiratory deaths in the winter months of 2016/17 compared with non-winter months, while four-fifths of respiratory deaths were among those aged 75 and older.
Women were more likely than men to be affected.
The ONS said that research has shown that as the temperature gets colder mortality increases, but temperature is only able to explain a part of the variance in excess winter mortality.
Jodie Withers, health analysis and life events at the ONS, said: "While there has been an increase in excess winter deaths making the total the second highest over the last five winter periods, the number does not exceed the peak that was observed in the 2014 to 2015 winter period.
"The increase is likely due to the predominant strain of flu prevalent during the 2016 to 2017 winter which had greater impact on the elderly than the young."
During the 2016/17 flu season the vaccine was not found to be significantly effective in protecting against influenza among over-65s, Public Health England has previously said.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: "This dramatic jump in excess winter deaths in England is a terrible rebuke to anyone who thought it was 'job done' when it comes to keeping older people safe and sound through the winter. Remember that every one of these deaths was, by definition, preventable.
"Without further research it is impossible to nail down cause and effect but it is notable that last winter was not especially severe and that the statistics remained stable in Wales.
"A less than fully effective flu vaccine is likely to be one culprit, but it is also true that many older people live in poorly insulated homes and worry about turning up the heating during the cold months, increasing their risk of ill health.
"In addition, we know the NHS and social care are under unprecedented strain and the net result is that poorly older people, often living alone, are not always getting the effective, timely help they need to nip emerging health problems in the bud."
Some ways to stay well this winter
Try and get outside if conditions aren’t too icy or cold, says a spokesman at Independent Age. "It can boost your mood to get outdoors while it is still daylight. If you are indoors, don’t sit still for more than an hour. Moving around your home can help to keep you warm."
Be careful in icy weather
If you have to go out when the ground is icy, opt for shoes with a decent grip and warm lining, and some thick socks. It’s a good idea to keep some grit or salt to put on your path – some councils provide free bags of this, or you can purchase it in a DIY store.
Keep your cupboards and freezer well stocked
It is always handy to have some basic food stuffs on hand for when it’s too cold to brave going out. Long-life milk and fruit juice, pasta, rice and tins of soup or baked beans are useful options, plus some frozen veg, meat, fish and bread in your freezer.
Have a flu jab every year. "It’s free if you’re 65 or over, a carer or have certain health conditions. Flu can increase your risk of more serious illnesses such as pneumonia. Make an appointment with your GP or see if your local pharmacy offers the flu jab."
Keep a well-stocked medicine cupboard
Keep a range of everyday medicines at home in case you get ill, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, cough medicine, lozenges and sore throat sprays.
Drink more milk
Drinking more milk and having more dairy products in winter can boost your immune system and assist in the prevention of colds, the NHS recommends. Dairy products contain protein and vitamins A and B12 as well as calcium to keep your bones strong.
Top up vitamin D
Not getting enough vitamin D on dark, cold winter days can leave you feeling tired. Aside from sunlight, other sources of vitamin D include oily fish (think salmon, mackerel and sardines), eggs, red meat, margarine, and some cereals and dairy products.
The Government recommends that all adults consider a daily vitamin D supplement from October to March, while people at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency might be advised to take a supplement all year round.
Check your thermostat
"Being cold isn’t just uncomfortable – it can also be very bad for your health. Low temperatures increase the risk of flu as well as a heart attack, stroke or hypothermia. Your living room should be around 70F (21C) and your other rooms should be at least 64F (18C)," Independent Age recommends.
Use simple tips to keep your home warm
Pull your curtains shut before it gets dark to keep the heat in, and consider investing in thermal or heavier ones to keep your room even cosier. Keep radiators clear so heat can circulate and put draft excluders by your doors and windows.