More than 2,500 people in England and Wales are likely to perish from cold in the week leading up to Christmas, experts said today.
The forecast from the Faculty of Public Health and Met Office comes amid renewed concern over the plight of the poor and vulnerable during cold snaps.
Each winter, a larger proportion of Britons die because of unseasonable cold weather than in either Finland or Russia.
An estimated 40,000 more people die between December and March in the UK than would be expected from death rates during other times of the year.
More than half the deaths are due to heart attacks, strokes and circulatory problems and a third from lung disease. When the temperature suddenly plummets, as it has this weekend, the danger is even more acute.
Professor Sian Griffiths, president of the Faculty of Public Health, which sets and maintains professional standards in public health, said: “A high proportion of preventable illness and deaths in the UK is caused by people living in damp and cold housing.
“If we see much more of the cold weather of recent days, it is likely that as many as 50,000 people will die unnecessarily over this winter. This is a tragedy in terms of human life and also creates a huge – and preventable – strain on the NHS.