The coldest winter in 14 years did not drive an increase in deaths during the December 2009 to March 2010 period.

The excess winter mortality figures from the Office of National Statistics show a fall of 30 per cent on the winter of 2008-09, when the number of deaths above the annual average spiked at 34,000.

However the figures represent an increase of 2 per cent on the winter of 2007-08.

Apart from the occasional spike, excess winter mortality has been in general decline during the past two decades with the average falling from 33,559 in the 1990s to 25,058 during the 2000s.

UK Faculty of Public Health vice chair John Middleton, who is also director of public health at NHS Sandwell, said it was “conceivable” that improved winter planning had contributed to the decline but research was needed to establish a definitive link.

NHS chief executive Sir David Nicholson has written to chief executives asking them to make sure they are prepared for winter as temperatures dropped and snow began falling in parts of the country.

Sir David wrote that despite the challenge presented by the winter months, the focus on quality and productivity must be maintained.