Smokers urged to reduce risks and give up
People with heart conditions and respiratory disease should stop smoking during the arctic weather to reduce their risk of developing life threatening illness, a doctor warned yesterday.
Respiratory physician Dr Luke Clancy said the death toll among vulnerable groups would inevitably rise as a result of the prolonged severe weather.
His comments came as research jointly carried out by the Institute of Public Health and Age Action Ireland showed more than 600 "excess deaths" were recorded among the over-65s in the first three months of last year when winter conditions were also harsh.
"Smoking reduces the ability to carry oxygen in the blood and insufficient oxygen affects the person's strength to fight infection, which can be life-threatening," said Dr Clancy, director general of the Tobacco Research Institute.
The risk of death is higher among the less well-off who are more likely to suffer from fuel poverty, he said.
He advised people to try to keep warm and not be afraid of running up electricity or gas bills, saying providers like the ESB needed to exercise compassion to ensure nobody dies for want of heat.
"I'm afraid because of the recession the poor will not be able to keep as warm as they should be," he added.
Hospitals, which are already coping with a surge in pedestrians injured after falls in the snow, are seeing a rise in people with heart and respiratory conditions whose health deteriorates in cold weather.
Figures compiled by the Irish Nurse and Midwife Organisation showed the numbers of trolleys in use had soared to 414 with 54 patients in the emergency department of Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
Other hospitals badly hit were St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin (32); Tallaght Hospital, Dublin (29); and Wexford General (36). There were 29 patients waiting in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and 20 in University College Hospital, Galway.
Fergal Hickey, emergency physician at Sligo General Hospital, urged people to wear gloves instead of putting their hands in their pockets so their hands would be free to help break any falls.