UK heatwave caused hundreds of extra deaths this summer, figures suggest

Total of 625 extra deaths recorded during two periods of higher-than-normal temperatures in spring and early summer

Tom Batchelor
Monday 17 September 2018 11:31 BST
England experienced some of the hottest days of the year in late June, when the extra deaths were recorded
England experienced some of the hottest days of the year in late June, when the extra deaths were recorded (Getty)

Hundreds of extra deaths were recorded in England as a result of the heatwave in spring and early summer, official statistics show.

In the last week of June, when temperatures rose above 30C, 382 more deaths occurred than the average.

And during unseasonably warm spring temperatures in April, 243 more deaths were observed than the five-year average.

Experts said many of the deaths could have been prevented if the public had been made aware “about the increasing risks of heatwaves due to climate change”.

The Office for National Statistics’ quarterly mortality report only deals with the months from April to June, meaning the effect of the hot weather that continued throughout July is not accounted for.

The report revealed “specific instances of increased mortality that coincided with periods of increased temperature in England”.

It said: “From 25 June 2018 onwards, maximum temperatures exceeded 24.5 degrees Celsius, the level at which Public Health England warns that excess heat-related deaths may begin to become apparent. In that time, 382 more deaths occurred than the average for the same period from 2013 to 2017.”

This summer was the warmest on record in England, and analysis by the Met Office shows that the incidence of heatwave conditions is rising.

Roads melted and train tracks bent out of shape during the baking heat in late June.

Britons endured record breaking temperatures on consecutive days with the mercury rising to 33C in Porthmadog in Wales and similar highs recorded in England.

At the time, Public Health England issued a warning that the extreme heat could pose a risk to the most vulnerable.

But Bob Ward, of the respected Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said more could have been done to prevent additional deaths.

“These figures unfortunately confirm fears that hundreds of people in England died during hot weather in England earlier this year,” he said.

“It is likely that many of the people who died during the hot weather suffered from underlying illnesses, such as respiratory disease.

The Central Line in the heatwave: How hot is it?

“Nonetheless, many of these deaths may have been prevented if buildings were better adapted to prevent overheating.

“The government has been warned by experts for a number of years that the awareness of the public needed to be raised about the increasing risks of heatwaves due to climate change.”

The spike in deaths on 18 and 19 April, the hottest April days in 70 years when temperatures reached 28.3C in London, saw a fall in mortality rates in the days following.

One possible explanation the report suggests for the subsequent decrease is short-term mortality displacement, where an event that frail individuals are especially vulnerable to occurs, causing temporary depletion of the pool of those individuals who would have died in the short-term regardless.

The ONS report said it would directly address the question of heatwave-linked deaths in its December report.

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