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A joint Met Office-Department of Health project to give advanced ...
A joint Met Office-Department of Health project to give advanced

notice of life-threatening weather has been announced. The

Heat-Health Watch will operate until 15 September and is

designed to give information to those who are most vulnerable during

hot weather.

Met Office forecasts will trigger levels of response from the

Department of Health, NHS and other social care bodies when certain

criteria are met. Advice and information can then be given to the

public and health and social care professionals, in particular those

working with vulnerable groups.

Climate change means heatwaves are likely to become more common in

the UK. The evidence is strong, that abnormally high temperatures

over more than a couple of days causes 'extra' deaths and timely

warnings and preventative measures can reduce these. Statistics show

that the rise in mortality follows the rise in temperature almost

immediately. Being prepared followed by timely action is crucial when

warnings are issued.

Region Day Maximum (Deg C) Night minimum (Deg C)

London 32 18

South East 31 16

South West 30 15

Eastern 30 15

Wales 30 15

West Mids 30 15

East Mids 30 15

North West 30 15

Yorks & Humber 29 15

North East 28 15

Above figures are threshold day and night temperatures as defined by

region. These temperatures could have significant effect on health if

reached on at least two consecutive days.

Level 1 Awareness - Minimum state of vigilance, general level of

preparedness is enhanced

Level 2 Alert - Triggered as soon as the Met Office forecast

threshold temperatures being reached in any one region at least three

days ahead

Level 3 Heatwave - Triggered as soon as Met Office confirms

threshold temperatures have been reached in any one region or more

Level 4 Emergency - Reached when the heatwave is so severe and/or

prolonged that its effects extend outside health and social care

A leaflet is being distributed by Dept of Health, which gives simple

advice on what to do in the event of a prolonged heatwave. These will

available through GP practices, Pharmacies, NHS Direct Call centres,

Walk-in centres, Citizen Advice Bureaux, Hospitals, Health Promotion

Units, Care Homes and others.

Temperatures across much of the UK over the next few days are

forecast to reach 28 to 30 Deg C. Met Office and health officials are

in contact and preparing for an early use of this new service to the



- During the period 4 to 13 August 2003, there was an estimated 2,070

'excess deaths' in England associated with the heatwave (a 17%


- Met Office forecasts will originate from Met Office Exeter

At-risk groups include:

- Older people

- Babies and young children

- People will mental health problems

- People on certain medication

- People will serious chronic conditions such as breathing and heart


- People who already have a high temperature from an infection

- People who use alcohol and illicit drugs

- People with mobility problems

- People who are physically active, for example manual workers and

sports men and women



Chief medical officer Liam Donaldson, has today published a

contingency plan to be used in the event of a major heatwave this

summer or in future years.

The experience across Northwest Europe last summer, together with

predicted climate changes has prompted the need for a national plan

to become a standard part of resilience planning. It is recognised

that when preventative measures are followed in hot weather, the

number of heat related deaths are reduced.

Sir Liam said:

'Having a heatwave plan ensures that the public and organisations who

are involved in providing health and social care services know what

actions to take should temperatures rise over a continued period.

Although severe heatwaves are uncommon in England, it is particularly

important that vulnerable people including the elderly, babies and

young children take the necessary precautions to avoid serious harm

through heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

'Timely preventive measure can reduce excess deaths. In contrast to

deaths associated with cold snaps in winter the risk in mortality

follows very sharply, within one or two days of the temperature

rising. This means that by the time a heatwave starts the window of

opportunity for effective action is very short indeed. It is

therefore crucial that we are properly prepared for this situation.'

The plan outlines the procedures for relevant public bodies to ensure

accurate monitoring of heat related illnesses. This includes

collaboration with NHS Direct and GPs to monitor the daily rate of

heat related calls and consultations taking place throughout the hot


Four levels of alert and action have been identified for the NHS and

other public bodies that will be triggered by the monitoring system.

Level 1 is for raising awareness of heat effects on health with

practical advice on keeping cool. Level 4 would be in used in an

emergency where the severity or duration of the heatwave poses

serious dangers to health. Local social services and Primary Care

Trusts are asked to identify those people most at risk so that can be

assessed for any additional care and support that they may need.

The plan also provides for advice to be given directly to the public

about how they can help themselves. A leaflet called 'Heatwave - a

guide to looking after yourself' will be distributed nationally and

gives practical advice such as:

- If a heatwave is forecast, try and plan your day in a way that

allows you to stay out of the heat.

- If you can, avoid going out in the hottest part of the day (11am -


- If you must go out stay in the shade. Wear a hat and light loose

fitting clothes, preferably cotton. If you will be outside for some

time, take plenty of water with you.

- Take cool showers or baths and splash yourself several times a day

with cold water, particularly your face and the back of your neck.

- Eat as you normally would. Try to eat more cold food, particularly

salads and fruit, which contain water.

The advice is also directed at those involved in delivering care in

the community, including those caring for frail, older people in

nursing and residential homes. They need to ensure that basic

practical measures are taken, ensuring that south facing windows can

be shaded, that the fridge is working and that proper support is

available in the event of a heatwave.

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