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A School funded study by researchers at the University of Bristol has found that it is unrealistic to expect GPs to use medical records to identify individual patients who are most vulnerable to cold weather.

Ptammes

Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that GPs

Our study provides no evidence that GPs can easily identify those at risk during cold periods from data available in existing electronic records. Alternative methods are needed if GPs are to implement the NICE recommendation.
- Dr Peter Tammes

use existing data to identify patients most at risk from living in a cold home. However, the study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and published in the British Journal of General Practice today, found that there was little evidence to show that vulnerable subgroups could be identified using routine primary care data.

Every year in England and Wales an average of 24,000 extra deaths occur in the months December to March than in other four-month periods of the year. Those known to be most vulnerable are older patients aged 85 and over and those with chronic health conditions such as chronic renal disease, coronary heart disease, diabetes and COPD.

The researchers analysed data from over 300 general practices in the UK for patients aged 65 and over who died over a two-year period (34,752 records). They found that every 1°C drop in temperature was associated with 1.1% increase in deaths. However, they could not clearly establish any single group of patients that were particularly affected, despite analysing an enormous dataset. 

Read the press release.

Paper: Use of primary care data to predict those most vulnerable to cold weather: a case-crossover analysis. Peter Tammes, Claudio Sartini, Ian Preston, Alastair D. Hay, Daniel Lasserson and Richard W. Morris.