Britain's August heatwave may have killed at least 1,000

Click to follow
The Independent Online

August's heatwave may have claimed up to 1,000 lives in Britain and the toll is likely to rise as more deaths are registered in the coming weeks.

August's heatwave may have claimed up to 1,000 lives in Britain and the toll is likely to rise as more deaths are registered in the coming weeks.

The Office for National Statistics said yesterday that there were 907 more deaths registered in the week ending 15 August ­ when temperatures peaked at a record 38.1C (100.6F) ­ than the average for the same week over the previous five years.

There were 78 more deaths than average in the previous week, when the hot spell began.

The total number of deaths rose from 9,073 in the last week of July to 10,132 in the second week of August, suggesting that the high temperatures could have contributed to as many as one in ten deaths

The ONS cautioned that the death rate normally fluctuated from week to week by up to 500. Both June and July saw falls of more than 700 in the number of deaths registered, compared with the five-year average.

About one quarter of deaths are not registered until more than a week after the event. This implies that scores more deaths linked with Britain's two-week heatwave have still to be registered.

In France, where an estimated 10,000 people are thought to have died as a result of the hot weather, the head of the French health service, Lucien Abenhaim, resigned after criticisms that hospitals were caught unprepared during the holiday period.

In Britain, the Health Department said hospitals had experienced no problems in the heatwave. "Some ambulance services had quite a lot of extra calls. There was a knock-on effect with more people going to A&E, but we did not see any hospitals unable to cope," a spokesman said.

Funeral directors did record business. A firm in Redhill, Surrey, said: "There is often a busy blip in August, but this year has been exceptional. We did about 28 funerals when on average we would expect 18 a week. It's definitely to do with the heat. It gets to people after a while, especially those with breathing difficulties."

A firm in east London said people were having to wait up to two weeks for a service at the cemetery. "We have been busier this year," he said.

A 20-year survey of death rates linked with hot snaps in London by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that even a moderate rise in temperature above 19C (66F) produced a substantial effect. Until this year, the biggest increase was in the 15-day heatwave in July and August 1976, when the extra deaths were twice those during any other hot spell.

This summer's extra deaths are certain to be lower than the total blamed on the coming winter. Cold weather claims more lives than hot and even a mild winter sees 4,000 extra deaths. In a bad year the excess toll may rise by as many as 25,000.