30/07/2004

Heatwave safety advice could save lives

The Chief Medical Officer has outlined measures to keep people safe in unusually hot weather this summer – and avoid the 2,000 'excess deaths' in England during last August's heatwave.

The contingency plan follows widespread problems across Northwest Europe last summer and predicted climate change. Temperatures across much of the UK over the next few days are forecast to reach 28 to 30 degrees centigrade. Officials are now preparing for early use of the new service.

The plan from Sir Liam Donaldson identifies four levels of alert and action for the NHS and other public bodies. High temperatures would trigger the 'Heat-Health watch' system that will operate from 1 June to 15 September.

In severe heat the human body can overheat and dehydrate, leading to heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Heatstroke can result in irreversible damage to the body, including the brain, or death.

Actions range from giving advice on how to keep cool at level one, through to level four where heat can pose a serious threat to health, and the emergency services may be involved.

A leaflet called 'Heatwave - a guide to looking after yourself' will be distributed nationally.

It includes advice such as: avoid going out in the hottest part of the day (11am - 3pm); if you must go out, stay in the shade; drink plenty of water; and try to eat more cold food, particularly salads and fruit, which contain water.

Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson said although uncommon, heatwaves cause problems for the elderly, babies and young children.

"In contrast to deaths associated with cold snaps in winter the risk in mortality follows very sharply, within one or two days of the temperature rising," he said.

"This means that by the time a heatwave starts the window of opportunity for effective action is very short indeed. It is therefore crucial that we are properly prepared for this situation."

(gmcg)

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