Tuesday 24 July 2018

Will Britain in a heatwave, once again, be no country for too many hot old men ?

Britain, like much of the Northern Hemisphere, is suffering in a heatwave at the moment, with Thursday and Friday shaping up to be the hottest days of the year so far with the mercury tipped to hit 35C. Long-range experts say there is a chance the all-time British record of 38.5C, recorded in Faversham, Kent, in August 2003, will be broken.

It is clearly known that a heatwave can overload the hearts of old men and women as their bodies try to adapt to the temperatures and extreme heat can increase the demands on their hearts by two-thirds. They have to work harder to pump blood to the body surface, to cool it by releasing heat through the skin. If they have heart problems, this increases the strain further. In very high temperatures their body sweats to lose heat, thereby losing salt and water which leads to all their body fluids, especially their blood, getting more concentrated, stickier and more likely to clot. This tends to make it much more likely that clots will form, which also means the number of heart attacks and strokes go up.

The 2003 heatwave which, in England alone, let alone Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, claimed 2,000 excess deaths over the 10 day heatwave period which lasted from 4 to 13 August. Most of the victims were old men and women who did indeed succumb to heart failure, heart attacks and strokes.

That was 15 years ago. Will the same thing happen this summer ?

Back in May the Government published its 'Heatwave Plan for England for 2018' which followed in the wake of others published annually since 2004, following that devastating heatwave the year before. Apparently : 'This year’s plan builds on many years of experience of developing and improving the ability of the health sector and its partners to deal with significant periods of hot weather.'

In the introduction Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer and Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health & Social Care said :

'The purpose of this heatwave plan is to reduce summer deaths and illness by raising public awareness and triggering actions in the NHS, public health, social care and other community and voluntary organisations to support people who have health, housing or economic circumstances that increase their vulnerability to heat. Communities can also help their neighbours, friends and relatives to protect against avoidable harm to health this summer.'

The plan goes into some detail about what should be done, when and why and is accompanied by a 

'Typical cascade of heatwave alerts' 

When the present heatwave is over and mortality figures are published, we will know if, once again, Britain has been no country for too many hot old men. 

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