The heatwave is piling pressure on England's already over-stretched A&E services, with last week being the busiest so far this year – while rising temperatures indicate accident and emergency departments could come under even more pressure next week.
Official figures show that 457,459 people attended A&E wards, minor injury units or walk-in centres in the week ending 14 July – more than in any week during the winter and the second highest weekly attendance since week-by-week records began three years ago.
The figures came as the UK notched up its seventh consecutive day of plus-30C temperatures, with the thermometer reaching 30.5C in Southampton and Dorset.
The Met Office said that the mercury may just about hit 30C again on Saturday, with the hottest parts of the country likely to move from the south to Scotland and the North West.
The Met Office issued a level three heatwave alert for the North West, West Midlands and South West, a rating that requires social and healthcare workers to keep a watchful eye on the very young, the very old and those with chronic diseases.
The longest heatwave in seven years continued to stretch the country in all sorts of directions today.
As state schools began breaking up for the summer, teachers’ leaders said recent high temperatures were a “major problem” for schools, making pupils lethargic and unable to concentrate.
Grass fires continued to rage around the country, with 60 firefighters being called to two separate incidents in the Epping Forest area of Essex, and a 15-year old boy drowned in River Roe in County Londonderry.
In Hampshire, gritting lorries normally associated with the snow traversed the county covering the hot road surfaces to make them less sticky, while concerns began to mount that a hosepipe ban may not be out of the question.
“At the moment we’re a long way from drought conditions, but if this very warm weather continues for another two or three weeks we could be looking at hosepipe bans,” warned Dr Ben Loyd-Hughes, a drought expert at the University of Reading.
Although the temperature is slightly lower than at its peak of 31.9C on Wednesday, it is forecast to rise to the “low 30s” on Monday and Tuesday and to hit 33C next Wednesday – it’s highest level since June 2011.
As a result, the emergency wards are bracing for an even tougher time next week.
NHS England said it was “closely monitoring” the situation, with local areas instructed to put “heat wave plans” into action. A spokesman said that though A&Es were “very busy”, emergency teams were coping well, and meeting targets to see more than 95 per cent of patients within four hours.
“NHS organisations are working together to enact local heatwave plans, which include putting extra capacity into unscheduled care pathways, and proactively supporting the most vulnerable patients at home. We urge everyone to follow public health advice to reduce the effects of the heat,” the spokesman said.
In addition to rising temperatures, the school holidays are also expected to increase the pressure on the A&E’s. They usually see a spike in admissions when vacations begin, with the large numbers of young people out and about likely to increase the numbers of accidents and conditions associated with heat exposure. State school summer holidays begin in most parts of the country this weekend or by the end of next week.
The highest weekly A&E attendance in the past three years – 461,794 – coincided with the Jubilee celebrations, which saw a four-day weekend and widespread outdoor celebrations in both warm and wet conditions.
Public Health England today said there had been a “small increase” in reports of heat-related illness last week, with people seeking advice for a variety of conditions including heat or sun stroke, dehydration, exhaustion and sunburn.
School children were among the groups most affected by the heat. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “Our research revealed teachers and pupils sweltering in classrooms with not even blinds at the windows which could be used to provide limited shade,” she said.
“Pupils become extremely lethargic, unable to concentrate and in some cases faint. Lessons are disrupted by constant requests for time out to go and get drinks of water or to go outside and many tasks take far longer to perform. Teachers are also concerned about the impact on pupil behaviour, reporting that pupils become irritable and in some cases aggressive with each other, Ms Keates added. She called for a new rule to be introduced requiring schools to send children home if classroom temperatures hit 30C.
Some schools, such as Colham Manor Primary School in Hillingdon, have sought to alleviate the problem by dishing out ice lollies to pupils once a day, it emerged yesterday.
Meanwhile, Truro cathedral in Cornwall has chosen now to open a new Christmas shop.
“I know it looks a bit odd, culturally, to have Christmas things in the middle of perhaps the hottest time we’ve had for many years, but we do believe there is a demand for this,” said the dean, the Very Reverend Roger Bush. The shop will sell nativity sets, decorations and advent calendars.
The hot weather is also having an impact on Britain’s blood stocks, with fewer people coming forward to donate blood and more people failing the iron test and therefore unable to donate.
Stocks of O Rh negative (O-) and B Rh (B-) blood types are down 11 per cent and 12 per cent respectively, and NHS Blood and Transplant has appealed for donors to come forward.
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