A dedicated online platform for hot-weather alerts has been launched by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to increase awareness of the health risks of high temperatures.
The UKHSA says the Heat-Health Alert service, launched this week with the Met Office following the publication of the Adverse Weather and Health Plan, will play a ‘vital role’ this summer in notifying health professionals about risks posed by high temperatures.
Between 1 June and 30 September, the UKHSA and Met Office will monitor weather forecasts and where episodes of hot weather are identified will carry out ‘joint dynamic risk assessment’.
Dr Agostinho Sousa, head of extreme events and health protection at UKHSA, said that the heat-health alerting system will play ‘a vital role in notifying professionals and the public of forecasted high temperatures that can affect the health of those most at risk, particularly individuals over the age of 65’.
Dr Sousa said that last year saw record high temperatures across the UK, with evidence suggesting that heatwaves are likely to occur more frequently and be more intense in the coming years.
The platform will publish headline weather conditions expected for the coming days, an outline of what impacts might be expected, an overview of the regional impact assessment, and links to additional advice and guidance.
Alerts will range from yellow, unlikely to impact anyone but the most at risk, up to red, which presents a significant risk to life even for healthy populations.
During a red alert, according to the UKHSA, ‘severe impacts would be expected across all sectors with a coordinated response essential’.
Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, told Nursing in Practice the alerts would give health and care professionals time to ‘prepare and adjust practice accordingly’ and that she was pleased the alerts would include resources for professionals to direct patients to.
However, when asked if the digital tool would be unhelpful for less technically literate patients, Ms Abrahams said that this might pose an issue for many of the older people who would benefit most from the alerts.
Ms Abrahams said that while the alerts are ‘mainly designed’ for health and social care organisations accessing the digital alerts, this would ‘clearly not be possible for the millions of older people who aren’t online’.
Though she added that she expected ‘widespread publicity when there’s a significant risk of extreme heat’ and that the new yellow to red approach ‘should be a lot easier for everyone to understand’.
Will Lang, head of situational awareness at the Met Office, said that human-induced climate change was causing ‘an increase in the frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme heat events’.
He added: ‘The updated health alerts will be complementary to, and run alongside our National Severe Weather Warnings, and will play a pivotal role in helping save lives, protect property and the economy as we all work to tackle adverse weather and climate change going forward.’
In the UK, any temperature in excess of 30ºC is considered an extreme heatwave. Last year, on 19 July Lincolnshire recorded record temperatures of 40.3 ºC, breaking a previous record set in 2019 of 38.7 ºC.
Studies published by the Met Office have shown that the likelihood of the UK experience a summer as or hotter than 2018 is now over one in ten, 30 times more likely than before the industrial revolution.
Scientists believe that the build up of greenhouse gases has now made extreme heatwaves and changing weather patterns more likely, increasing the danger of heat-related health risks.
This article was updated 05/06/23 to reflect new information from Age UK