UK Chief Medical Officer updates heatwave plan

The dangers of heat were today highlighted by the Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson with the publication of an updated heatwave plan and new public information leaflets.

This comes as early indications from the Met Office hint at a warmer than average July and August this summer.  The leaflets set out the precautionary measures that everyone can take to protect their own health and the comprehensive contingency plan ensures that health professionals and those caring for vulnerable older people know what action to take both in advance, and in the event, of a major heatwave

Although severe heatwaves are uncommon in England, the experience across Northwest Europe in 2003 is a reminder that heat can be fatal. The number of people who died directly because of the heat was 27,000 in Europe as a whole.  Within England figures released earlier this year there were 2,000 excess deaths - 85% of which were amongst people aged 75 and over.

Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson said:

"This second heatwave plan, updated from last year, will help ensure that the organisations who are involved in providing health and social care services know what actions to take both now, and if a heatwave arrives.  As the experience in 2003 demonstrated, it is particularly important that for those over 75, especially those  who live alone or in residential homes, the necessary precautions are taken to avoid serious harm through heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

"Timely preventive measure can reduce excess deaths.  The leaflet designed to provide the public with common sense precautions will help people to enjoy the weather whilst protecting themselves from the dangerous, and potentially fatal, effects of these temperatures."

A central aspect of the plan is the monitoring of heat related illnesses.  Throughout the hot weather there will be collaboration with NHS Direct and GPs to monitor the daily rate of heat related calls and consultations taking place.  This monitoring system will trigger one of four levels of alert. For each level actions have been identified for the NHS and other public bodies. 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 the threshold temperatures have been reached. 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 public information leaflet called 'Heatwave - a guide to looking after yourself' contains 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 - 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. Help them to keep their house as cool as possible,  drawing curtains, opening windows at night, or using a fan if necessary.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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