Heatwave Britain - are we putting our heads in the sand about the weather?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Extreme summers are growing more common, says a top public health body, and it’s time to pay more attention to their hazards

At last, the UK looks set to enjoy a real summer. Tuesday will be the hottest day of the year and the heatwave is forecast to last well into next week.

But there are two sides to sunny weather. While the population at large has been rejoicing around the barbecue, health authorities have warned that extreme summer heat is set to become the norm – and that we need to get better at preparing for it.

The deaths of two soldiers during a training exercise in Wales on Saturday have brought home the risks.

A&E wards in some parts of the country had higher than average admissions over the weekend and figures released by Public Health England tomorrow are expected to show that calls to NHS Direct and 111 phone lines about heat-related concerns spiked last week.

The heat, UV rays, high pollen counts and air pollution all combine to create a major public health headache. Tuesday is expected to be the hottest day of the year, with the Met Office forecasting the temperature will pass 32C for the first time since last August.

After the heatwave of 2003, when temperatures topped 38C and there were 2,000 extra deaths over 10 baking days in August, public health authorities brought in a comprehensive heatwave plan. It predicts that by 2040, the extremes of temperature seen in 2003 will become the norm.

“This is everybody’s problem. We need to look after everyone and we need everyone to look out for each other,” said Professor Virginia Murray, head of health protection at Public Health England.

“After 2003 we realised we had a very vulnerable population and had to start looking at the consequences of extreme events.”

The elderly, the long-term ill and  children are all at high risk. Those with cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses are at greatest risk. Dehydration is the main issue, but high temperatures are also linked with increased levels of potentially harmful pollutants.

At the moment, most areas of the UK are at a level-two heatwave alert. Care homes and hospitals are required to ensure cool zones are below 26C and that there is plenty of water and ice. The air quality index is at low to moderate risk – meaning it is safe to exercise.

On Tuesday, some areas could enter a level-three heat alert, which demands close monitoring of patients in hospitals and care homes. A prolonged spell of temperatures in the high-20s and 30s, coupled with above average night-time temperatures would trigger a level-four alert, demanding an emergency response from the Government.

The hope is that long-term planning will mean Britain is better prepared than ever. During the 2003 heatwave in France, there were 15,000 extra deaths in only three weeks.

“The importance of staying cool in hot weather cannot be overestimated for older people, especially at night between successive hot days,” said Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK. “It is extremely important  older people take sensible precautions, particularly if they have breathing problems or a heart condition.”

“It’s not classic heat that kills,” added Prof Murray. “It’s people who are vulnerable and maybe cannot move themselves to a cooler room –people who may be socially isolated and therefore not able to recognise that they’re really not coping.”

Other vulnerable groups include the homeless, who are more likely to be exposed to high temperatures in inner city “heat islands”.

Public Health England would recommend that marathons and other running events should not go ahead during a level-three threat – temperatures above 30C for most areas.

Britain’s infrastructure is also beginning feel the heat. Train speeds have been reduced as rails have reached temperatures up to 52C, while a section of the M25 was closed on Sunday near Potters Bar in Hertfordshire.

Wildlife trusts around the country have reported a jump in the populations of a range of species, such as butterflies, dragonflies and bumblebees on land and jellyfish and leatherback turtles in the sea.

In other cases, the weather is allowing nature to make up for lost time. Conditions were so poor in the spring that many barn owls, swallows and other birds were unable to breed because there were so few insects and worms to eat.

Mark Champion, Wigan projects manager at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, said: “The warm weather has created a second spring with birds just starting to nest.”

But he added: “We are worried ponds may dry up before froglets and toadlets are old enough to leave. It could be a problem unless we get some rain.”

Firefighters are urging people to take care with cigarette butts.

“A small spark from a cigarette is often all it takes to start a grass fire. Drivers also need to take care not to throw cigarettes out of car windows,” said Dave Brown, the London Fire Brigade’s head of operations.

London firefighters are dealing with 15 grass fires a day and that number could rise if the hot weather persists.

However, perhaps the most bizarre result of a hot spell is that some insects such as flower bugs and harlequin ladybird larvae turn their attentions from plants to humans.

Matt Shardlow, chief executive of Buglife, said: “You can get bugs trying to suck moisture out of people rather than plants. This doesn’t cause real harm, just momentary pain, but is an indication of  how desperate they are.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee