Heatwave: ‘People will die’ and NHS risks being ‘overwhelmed’ in extreme hot London weather, doctor warns
“It will overwhelm us again - or potentially overwhelm us. People will die. People die of heatstroke - elderly people and poor people, who can’t afford air conditioning.”
It comes as the capital is forecast to hit historic high temperatures, with a red heat alert issued by the Met Office for the first time ever, and a national emergency declared by health authorities.
NHS statistics suggest there are an average of 2,000 heat related deaths in the UK each year, with the elderly, very young, and those with existing conditions among the most at risk.
Anyone aged over 75; living alone or in a care home; bedbound or with serious or long-term illnesses including heart or lung conditions, diabetes, kidney disease, Parkinson’s disease or mental health conditions; those living with drug or alcohol addictions or Alzheimer’s disease are urged to take particular care in the heat.
Parents should also take extra care to keep babies and very young children cool, while the homeless, those who work outside, or who live in a top floor flat, are also vulnerable to heat.
Now Dr Jackie Applebee, chairman of the doctor’s branch of Unite the Union, has echoed warnings of a risk to life from the hot weather, and urged people to take the advice seriously.
She said: “It will overwhelm us again - or potentially overwhelm us. People will die. People die of heatstroke - elderly people and poor people, who can’t afford air conditioning where they live or work.
“People will have heart attacks or strokes. All those things go up when the temperature gets above a certain level.”
Dr Applebee, who is a GP in Tower Hamlets, east London, added: “It’s climate change and it’s been staring us in the face for decades. Why don’t they do something about it?
“Politicians need to stop just saying what they think people want to hear and actually telling people what they need to hear.
“If we do not get on top of this climate crisis this is just going to get worse and worse and worse, and quite quickly.
“That’s what worries me. I’m so worried about it - really worried about it.”
The medical professional also reiterated health advice to help people stay cool in the heat.
She said: “If they can, people need to stay in the shade; drink plenty of fluids and they should put electrolytes back in [to themselves] as well as water, as they’ll be sweating.
“People tend to just drink lots of water but you need salt and sugars. Diluted fruit juice is good. Stay in the shade, keep as cool as possible.
“For people who work outside, it’s really hard. Sunscreen - that’s the other key thing.”
And she continued: “Stay cool - If you’ve got to do something, do it in the evening and especially stay out of the heat of the day.
“Have the windows open and a fan on.
“For some people that’s really not possible and for agricultural workers, who are again very low paid and outside, it’s really hard.
“I feel very sorry for them and for people who can’t afford not to go to work - they’ve got to go otherwise they’ll lose a day’s pay.”
What does the NHS say about coping with the heat?
The NHS says the main risks from the heat are dehydration, from not drinking enough water; overheating, which can make symptoms worse for people who already have problems with their heart or breathing; and heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
- Keep an eye on those who struggle to keep cool and hydrated, including neighbours;
- Stay indoors and try to keep you home as cool as possible;
- Close curtains in rooms facing the sun, as it may be hotter outside than in;
- If going outdoors, use cool spaces and keep your distance from others;
- Drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol;
- Never leave anyone in a parked vehicle, especially babies, children or animals;
- Try to keep out of the sun between 11am to 3pm;
- Walk in the shade, apply sunscreen regularly and wear a wide brimmed hat;
- Avoid exercising in the hottest parts of the day;
- Make sure you take water with you, if you are travelling;
- Follow water safety advice and take care if swimming in open water;
- If you feel unwell with a high temperature, it may be heat exhaustion or heatstroke;
- And seek medical advice if concerned about your own or someone else’s health.
You can contact your local council for help from the environmental health team, who can inspect a home for hazards, including excess heat.