The dangers of heat and top tips for surviving the summer sun were today highlighted by the chief medical officer Liam Donaldson with the publication of an updated heatwave plan.
Although severe heatwaves are uncommon in England, the experience across Northwest Europe in 2003 is a reminder that heat can be fatal.
In England figures released showed there were 2,000 excess deaths - 85% of which were amongst people aged 75 and over.
Sir Liam said:
'Taking action in advance can help reduce the number of excess deaths from heat. This plan will help make sure that the NHS and care services are prepared should a heatwave arrive.
'The elderly are particularly vulnerable and it is important that those aged over 75, especially those who live alone or in care homes, take precautions to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
'We will be sending a leaflet to GPs, pharmacies and walk-in centres across the country with basic advice to help people protect themselves from the effects of high temperatures'.
The public information leaflet called 'Heatwave - a guide to looking after yourself and others in hot weather' contains top tips 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-3pm).
- 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.
- Look after older people. They are much more prone to the effects of heat. If you have older relatives or neighbours you can help simply by checking on them if possible every day, and reminding them to drink plenty and often. They should have a mixture of drinks including fruit juice and water. They should keep their house as cool as possible.
1. A 'Heat-Health watch' system operates from 1 June to 15 September which, based on Met Office forecasts, will trigger levels of response from the Department of Health, the NHS, social services, local authorities and other bodies.
The plan sets out four levels of alert. The Met Office will inform us which these four levels of alert applies in each region of the country. Level 1 starts on 1st June to remind people of the practical steps people need to take to keep cool and to identify individuals at particular risk from extreme heat. Level 2 is triggered when for any part of the country there is an 80% chance that heatwave temperatures will be reached for two or more days. Level 3 is when a heatwave is confirmed. Level 4 is when the heatwave is so severe or prolonged that its effects extend outside health and social care, such as power or water shortages.
The following are the heatwave threshold day and night temperatures, as defined by the Met Office by region. These temperatures could have a significant effect on health if reached on at least two consecutive days.
Temperature (degrees centrigrade)
Region Day Night
London 32 18
South East 31 16
South West 30 15
Eastern 30 15
West Mids 30 15
East Mids 30 15
North West 30 15
Yorks & Humber 29 15
North East 28 15
3. There are certain groups that are particularly at risk during a heatwave. These include:
- older people, especially those over 75 years old/or living on their own, or in a care home
- people suffering from mental ill health, those with dementia, and those who rely on help from other people to manage day-to-day activities
- people who are bed-bound
- people taking certain types of medication
- people suffering from chronic ill health
- babies and young children, especially under four years old
4. In a severe heatwave the body can overheat and dehydrate, leading to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, an intense thirst, sleepiness, hot red and dry skin, a sudden rise in temperature, confusion, aggression, convulsions and a loss of consciousness. Heatstroke can result in irreversible damage to the body, including the brain, or death.
5. The leaflets are being distributed by post direct to the following
recipients: GP practices, Pharmacies, Walk-in centres, Citizens Advice bureaux, NHS Direct call centres, Hospitals, Health Promotion Units, Care Homes and some voluntary sector organisations.
6. Hot weather can sometimes lead to increased air pollution. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs monitors air quality across the country. To see what air quality is like in your area, go to TELETEXT page 156, see the Air Quality website or ring Defra's freephone helpline on 0800 556677.
7. For the Heatwave Plan and the leaflet please see the Department of Health website via the above link.
Commission for Social Care Inspection press release:
HEATWAVE ADVICE FOR CARE HOMES
Care homes are being urged to prepare early for potential heatwaves so they can help protect older people from the effects of high temperatures.
Actions such as making sure windows can be opened and shaded, checking there are enough fans, making sure cold drinks are available and ensuring you know who is most at risk, can help to reduce the risk of older people getting heatstroke.
The guidance for care home managers and staff on supporting vulnerable people before and during a heatwave is being published by the Department of Health as part of its updated heatwave plan. Domiciliary care agencies will also be alerted to the dangers associated with heatwaves and the need to take appropriate action to protect service users.
Paul Snell, business director, inspection, regulation and review for the Commission for Social Care Inspection, said:
'It is vital that managers and staff in care homes take action to ensure that older people in their care are protected from the heat.
'This leaflet sets out a number of steps to ensure that care homes are prepared for long spells of hot weather, so that they can keep their residents healthy, happy and safe.'
Other preparatory measures include:
- Ensure that staff know which rooms are most easy to keep cool
- Check the air conditioning system works properly, if one exists
- Check water and ice are widely available, and arrange for cold drinks to be distributed in the event of a heatwave
- Plan to adapt menus to cold meals, in consultation with residents
- Ensure you have protocols to monitor residents most at risk and to provide additional care and support
- Check residents have light, loose-fitting cotton clothing to wear.
During a heatwave care homes should check body temperature and weight regularly, watch for signs of headache, unusual tiredness, weakness, disorientation or sleeping problems and monitor residents' fluid intake.
1. The full Heatwave plan and advice for care home managers and staff are available on the Department of Health website: www.dh.gov.uk
2. The CSCI is assisting the Department of Health with the distribution of the advice leaflets to care homes and domicilliary care agencies.
3. The CSCI is the single inspectorate for social care in England, responsible for regulating and inspecting all social care providers - whether in the public or independent sector.
4. The commission's primary aim is to improve social care by putting the needs of people who use care services first.