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Deaths linked to heat set to rise sharply

MPs warn heat-related deaths could treble by 2050

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 26 July 2018

MPs have today warned that the number of heat-related deaths in the UK could treble by the year 2050 if the government fails to take action to prevent this, as temperatures increase.

The report by the parliamentary environmental audit committee published today on what is set to be the hottest day of the year so far, says the prediction is that higher temperatures which caused more than 2,000 deaths in 2003 will be the norm by the 2040s.

MPs on the committee said it was vital that the UK adapted to heatwaves and treated them as deadly serious.

In their inquiry, the committee MPs had found that failing to address the danger of heatwaves would threaten the wellbeing of an increasing number of vulnerable people.

The committee called on the government to ensure that NHS England issued guidance on planning for summer pressures, to ensure that adequate steps were taken to prepare the NHS for more frequent heatwaves.

NHS organisations should submit annual heatwave plans to ensure they were prepared for the sudden onset of a heatwave and the Care Quality Commission and NHS England should inspect resilience to heatwaves in hospitals and care homes, it added.

Other recommendations in the report included:

  • protect peoples’ health by changing building regulations to prevent overheating
  • introduce stricter water efficiency standards as part of building regulations
  • coordinate a study of vulnerability to heat-health risks on transport
  • Public Health England should issue formal guidance to employers to relax dress codes and allow flexible working during heatwaves
  • the government should consult on introducing maximum workplace temperature
  • launch a public information campaign on the growing frequency and intensity of heatwaves and run a year-round heatwave alert system to warn vulnerable people about the health risks
  • provide a ministerial lead in the Department of Health and Social Care with responsibility for climate change related health risks.
Mary Creagh, committee chair, said: “Heatwave warnings are welcomed as barbecue alerts, but they threaten health, wellbeing and productivity.

“The Met Office has projected that UK summer temperatures could regularly reach 38.5°C by the 2040s. The government must stop playing pass the parcel with local councils and the NHS and develop a strategy to protect our ageing population from this increasing risk.

“Heatwaves cause premature deaths from cardiac, kidney and respiratory disease. There will be 7,000 heat-related deaths every year in the UK by 2050 if the government does not take action.

“The government needs to do more to warn the public of the health risks of heatwaves, particularly when they fall outside of the summer period, and should appoint a minister to lead work across government.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGP chair, said: “While many people enjoy the hot weather, the underlying causes for it are profoundly concerning, and it does hold potential health risks, particularly for our more vulnerable patients.

“There are a number of things patients can do to keep safe and well in the heat and sun, but it’s essential that the NHS is prepared for heatwaves, and that we don’t find ourselves facing two seasonal crises a year – one of which already threatens to destabilise the entire health service each winter.”

*Heatwaves: adapting to climate change . A report prepared by the parliamentary environmental audit committee, 26 July 2018.

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