Westminster Column - Heatwaves

3rd August 2018

Last weekend’s welcome rain followed near record high temperatures in Shropshire, across the UK and in Northern Europe, after one of the longest heatwaves in living memory.

As it happens this coincided with publication the previous week of a report by MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee, on which I have been a member since January, into the impact of heatwaves on the UK.

For most of us the recent hot weather has seemed a welcome change from the unreliable nature of the normal British summer. But heatwaves can have a profound health impact on the vulnerable, as well as raising further ecological and agricultural challenges.

The summer of 2003, which saw temperatures reach 38.5°C in the UK, resulted in over 2,000 deaths. The Met Office have predicted that these sorts of temperatures could become the norm by 2050, and research by our Committee have shown heat related deaths could treble by that time if collectively we do not act on the dangers. 

So there is a clear need for us all to consider what action we can take, and for Government to help people cope better with what is becoming an increasingly frequent prospect of more extreme weather, including hotter spells in summer.

The Committee has recommended a number of steps to build resilience in future, including greater preparedness by the NHS, such as guidance on how to plan for hot conditions and inspecting hospitals and care homes; greater consideration in planning regulations, including preventing overheating in homes and better management of water; more consideration and flexibility from employers and schools, like flexible dress codes and considerations of a maximum safe temperature; factoring in heatwaves to the transport system; and proper Ministerial oversight for the health implications of heatwaves.

Heatwaves are more likely to cause issues in cities than rural areas like Shropshire, as cities can be up to 10°C hotter than surrounding countryside due to the urban heat island effect. But extreme temperature events in Europe are now 10 times more likely than they were in the early 2000s, this year being an excellent case in point – with this heatwave preceded by the Beast from the East. So we will all have to adapt to changing weather patterns and consider how we manage precious resources such as water better.

But there is a significant role for Government in helping people prepare to live with hotter summers and hot weather coming earlier in the year than we have become accustomed.

For those looking for health advice about how to cope during a heatwave, the NHS website has some helpful information, available at www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/heatwave-how-to-cope-in-hot-weather/.

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