Winter Mortality in Scotland – 2015/16

Statistical news release.

In total, 20,503 deaths were registered from December 2015 to March 2016, compared with 22,013 in the previous winter (2014/15), according to statistics released today by the National Records of Scotland (NRS).

The 20,503 deaths registered in the four winter months of 2015/16 exceeded both the 17,625 deaths in the preceding four-month period and the 17,675 deaths in the following four-month period.

The seasonal difference (comparing the four winter months with the average of the four-month periods before and after the winter, and rounding the result) was 2,850 for winter 2015/16. This was 1,210 fewer than the corresponding figure of 4,060 for winter 2014/15 (which was the largest seasonal increase since the 5,190 for winter 1999/2000). The seasonal increase of 2,850 in winter 2015/16 was smaller than in most of the 64 previous winters, but exceeded the level seen in 14 of the previous 20 winters, and in 8 of the previous 10 winters.

The last sixteen winters have had seven out of the ten lowest seasonal increases in the 65 winters for which figures are available. NRS statistics show that mortality can fluctuate markedly from winter to winter: occasionally one year will have an unusually large figure, like winter 2014/15.

Commenting on ‘Winter Mortality in Scotland - 2015/16’, Tim Ellis, Chief Executive of NRS, said:

"There are always more deaths in the winter in Scotland than in any other season. These new figures from National Records of Scotland show that last winter’s seasonal increase was smaller than the one for winter 2014/15, but it was still above the level seen in eight of the previous ten winters.

“However, looking at our figures, which go back to 1951/52, the long-term trend has clearly been downward. Despite the unusually high figure for winter 2014/15, the five-year moving average (which smoothes out much of the year-to-year fluctuation) is at its fourth lowest ever level.

"There is no single cause of additional deaths in winter. Very few are caused by hypothermia and only a small proportion by influenza. The underlying causes of most of the additional deaths include respiratory and circulatory diseases (such as pneumonia, coronary heart disease and stroke), dementia, and Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases.”

Notes to editors

The report "Winter Mortality in Scotland - 2015/16" is available on the NRS Web site via:

For the purpose of these statistics, the seasonal increase in mortality in the winter is defined as the difference between the number of deaths in the four-month "winter" period (December to March, inclusive) and the average of the numbers in the two four-month periods which precede winter (August-November) and which follow winter (April-July).

The report shows the seasonal increase in mortality recorded each winter in Scotland since 1990/91, broken down by age-group, and the overall figures back to 1951/52. Statistics showing the effect on different age groups for each NHS Board area and each Local Authority area are provided for the latest ten winters. The following chart shows how the seasonal increase in mortality, and the 5-year moving average, have tended (in general) to decline since winter 1951/52 - and that there have been some considerable year-to-year fluctuations.

Mortality stats

Information about the numbers of deaths from different causes is given in the Vital Events Reference Tables (available via ). Paragraph 3.7 of the report explains that, in most years, there are only a few deaths for which the underlying cause is recorded as influenza. Further statistics on births, deaths and other vital events, produced by NRS, can be accessed via:

Official statistics are produced by professionally independent statistical staff. All NRS’s statistics can be accessed via

Media enquiries should be directed to:
Frank Dixon: 0131 314 4229

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