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The effects of heatwaves and how shading can help keep us cool

Even though the summers of 1976, 1995 and 2018 were the warmest in the UK since 1910, the summer of 2019 has seen the highest temperature officially recorded in the UK. During the July heatwave, a temperature of 38.7C in Cambridge Botanic Garden set a new UK record.

Lare Nullis, a World Meteorological Organisation spokeswoman, said the heatwave that gripped the country and swept across Europe bore the ‘hallmark of climate change’, with extreme events more frequent, starting earlier, and becoming more intense. “It’s not a problem that’s going to go away”, she further commented.

A scientific study by Met Office into the UK summer of 2018 concluded that a heatwave was 30 times more likely to occur now than in 1750. This is due to the higher concentration of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere responsible for the rise in Earth’s surface temperature (by 1C since the pre-industrial period of 1850-1900) and for stalling jet stream winds and weather patterns – causing heatwaves, thunderstorms, torrential rains and floods. The study predicts that as greenhouse gas concentrations increase, heatwaves of similar intensity are projected to become even more frequent, perhaps occurring as regularly as every other year.

What impact do heatwaves have on us?

Dr. Nick Scriven, President of Society for Acute Medicine, reflects on the strains heatwaves place on NHS and social care system in a post on BMJonline. He says: “…we need to focus on the effect that this [record temperatures] is having on our patients and also our staff throughout healthcare services”. Last year we saw a more prolonged spell of hotter than usual weather and during this period up to 860 extra deaths were reported.

Dr. Scriven further comments: “Hospitals can overheat to 30 degrees Celsius when the temperature outside is just 22 degrees Celsius. However, the NHS only asks hospitals and other healthcare organisations to report on their preparation for winter pressures. NHS England’s Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response assurance does not account for the risk of overheating hospitals, and the Care Quality Commission do not inspect for it either. The ability of nursing homes to cope with the serious health impact of heatwaves on older people is not assessed. This is worrying given that in the 2003 heatwave, excess deaths in nursing homes in some parts of the UK rose by 42%.”

Emergency department attendances and emergency admissions to hospital revealed that in June 2019, there were 2,108,001 patients admitted to A&E in England, which compares to 2,000,086 in January 2018. There were 528,808 emergency admissions in June 2019, compared to 303,089 in January 2018. Dr. Scriven adds: “This is truly staggering and shows the massive strain building on the NHS month on month, even on less extreme days with the pressure on front line staff unrelenting”.

For tips on how blinds and shutters can help reduce the effects of high external temperatures see here:

For homeowners

For commercial building users/owners

For architects and engineers





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