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Are you ready for a heatwave?

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In the UK, we're consumed by talk of the weather. We complain when summer only lasts a day, and complain when it gets too hot. We're certainly right to be concerned about overheating. On average, 2,000 people a year die in the UK because of the heat. According to research carried out in 2014 by Public Health England, this number will rise to more than 12,500 by 2050 because of global warming.

In this article, we'll look at what you can do to help protect those patients most at risk form heat-related illnesses and death.

Who is most at risk during a heatwave?

When we suffer a heatwave in the UK, the number of deaths skyrocket. In 2013, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that as many as 760 deaths could be attributed to the nine-day heatwave in July. When the temperature moves above 26ᵒC, certain people find it difficult to cope with the heat. Those most at risk include:

  • Patients over 75 years of age
  • The very young
  • Patients with physical or mental health issues
  • The homeless, or those in poor housing
  • Those with an alcohol or drug abuse problem

Of those patients with existing medical conditions, those with heart problems or breathing difficulties are most at risk.

How can you help your patients stay safe through a heatwave?

If there's a secret to patient safety during a hot summer, it's no more than education. Let your patients know what precautions they should take to stay cool and regulate their body temperature.

Doctors and other clinical staff have a key part to play. They should ensure that they discuss the effects of heat with at-risk patients at the end of an appointment. Explain why the patient is at risk, and what precautions should be taken against excess heat during the summer.

In addition, you should consider posting explanatory notices on waiting room notice boards. Perhaps you could write a piece for the local newspaper. And, of course, make sure that all appropriate information is posted on your website.

If you use email to contact patients, a cheap and efficient way of spreading such health advice is to send a circular to your patients (use an email system that ensures patient email addresses remain confidential).

What advice should you provide?

Prevention is always better than cure. Thus, think about the precautions that your patients should take to stay cool and safe when the weather heats up. This can be summarised as follows:

  • Stay out of the sun, and find shade during extremely hot weather
  • Wear loose clothes
  • Wear sunglasses, a hat, and use sunscreen
  • Don't exercise too much, especially when the sun is at its hottest
  • Eat salads, and drink cold soft drinks. Avoid too much alcohol
  • Take a cold bath or shower to cool down
  • Keep windows open at night (providing it is safe to do so), and curtains closed during the day
  • Don't leave at-risk people (very old and very young) alone in a parked car
  • If you take medication, keep it cool
  • If you feel dizzy, or experience pain in your stomach or limbs, visit your doctor

The summer's coming! We certainly hope it hasn't been and gone. Help your patients enjoy the great British summer, by helping them stay fit and healthy.