Reasons to fear the next UK heatwave

Paul Brown
Patients sweat it out during the 2003 heatwave. Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

It is 14 years since the heatwave of 2003 killed 2,000 people in southern England and the alarm was raised about hot weather being as dangerous for vulnerable people as winter cold.

Since then a UK-wide warning system has been put in place that will inform people when the temperature is likely to exceed 30C for a day and a night. Weather forecast warnings of an imminent heatwave ask that vulnerable people take steps to keep cool.

Hospitals and care homes are supposed to provide a “cool room” for those most at risk. The last such warning was given in August 2016.

But scientists are concerned that this is nowhere near enough to protect the public because, even in moderately warm weather, some places can become dangerously hot. Researchers at Loughborough University forecast: “Overheating in UK homes is a public health disaster waiting to happen.”

They say this is partly because the government has concentrated its regulations on insulating homes to keep people warm in winter, thereby making them more likely to overheat in summer. This plus poor design of houses and more high-rise building has made many homes uncomfortably warm even in mild summers. Tests show that hospital wards and homes for the elderly are among the most dangerous places in a heatwave.

Loughborough says new regulations are required to improve design. This means providing easy-to-open windows and shading to keep out the sun. A public education plan is also needed so people know to open windows at night to let in cool air and close them during the day to keep the heat out.

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