More than 3,000 killed during high temperatures recorded this summer

The heat-related deaths were recorded in England and Wales

Saphora Smith
Climate Correspondent
Friday 07 October 2022 09:53 BST
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<p>Horses stand in the shade of an oak tree in a parched field in Oxted, Surrey, in August </p>

Horses stand in the shade of an oak tree in a parched field in Oxted, Surrey, in August

More than 3,000 heat-related deaths were recorded in England and Wales this summer as temperature records were smashed across the UK.

The joint report between the UK Health Security Agency and the Office of National Statistics found that during five so-called “heat periods” between June and August this year, 3,271 excess deaths were recorded. The largest number of excess deaths (2,227) was recorded during the hot weather between 10 and 25 July.

The UK recorded 40.3C in Coningsby in Lincolnshire on 19 July, the highest temperature since records began. Temperature records in Wales and Scotland were also broken, reaching 37.1C in Hawarden, Flintshire and 34.8C in Charterhall in the Scottish borders.

The July heatwave caused the Met Office to issue its first extreme heat weather warning covering much of England, and the government announced the first national heatwave emergency for 18-19 July.

A heat period includes days when a level 3 heat health alert is in place or days when the mean temperature in central England is greater than 20C, plus the days preceding and after this criteria has been met. The heat health alert is designed to act as an early warning system to help healthcare professionals manage the period of extreme heat.

The heat periods this year were 16-19 June, 10-25 July, 30 July to 5 August, 8-17 August, and 23-25 August.

The average number of deaths per day was higher on a heat period day than on others, and the analysis finds that it is likely vulnerable people may have died a few days or weeks earlier than expected due to the heat. The excess deaths exclude Covid-related deaths.

While high temperatures can interrupt thermoregulation and can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke, which can be fatal, deaths as a result of heat stroke are rare in the UK. The main causes of illness and death during heat periods are respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, the UKHSA said.

Over this period, 2,803 excess deaths were recorded among those aged 65 and over in England, the highest number since the introduction of the heatwave plan for England in 2004. During the hottest part of the summer, 17-20 July, more than 250 excess deaths were recorded a day for those aged 65 and over.

“These estimates show clearly that high temperatures can be a fast and unsuspecting killer for those who are vulnerable,” said Isabel Oliver, chief scientific officer at the UK Health Security Agency.

“Higher excess deaths occurred during the hottest days this year and a warming climate means we must adapt to living safely with hotter summers in the future.

“Prolonged periods of hot weather are a particular risk for elderly people, those with heart and lung conditions or people who are unable to keep themselves cool such as people with learning disabilities and Alzheimer’s disease.”

The summer was the joint warmest on record for England, alongside 2018.

On 19 July, the UK’s previous temperature record of 38.7C was met or exceeded at 46 stations from Kent to Yorkshire, while seven stations recorded maximum temperatures in excess of 40C, according to the Met Office.

An ONS opinion survey in April showed that more than 60 per cent of adults in Britain think rising temperatures in the UK will affect them by 2030. The ONS said it was important therefore to keep investigating the impact the climate crisis and rising temperatures will have on Britain, including its impact on mortality.

According to the Climate Change Committees’ most recent Climate Risk Assessment report the number of heat-related deaths in the UK could increase to 7,040 deaths per year by 2050.

Sarah Caul, head of mortality analysis at the ONS, said that despite peaks in mortality during heatwaves, the majority of days in the winter show a higher number of deaths than we see during the summer.

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