Turning up the heat

We may have passed the longest day of the year but it is only now that the heat of summer is starting to be felt in the UK. On 24th June the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the Met Office combined to issue a four day heat health alert. And although no area of the country saw an official heatwave, in which temperatures go above a set threshold for three days in a row, the end of June did deliver the promise at least of a hot summer.

After a cooler than normal spring, the prospect of a few days of warmth is inviting. But there is a difference between warm temperatures and the soaring mercury which can have a serious impact on our ability to function. And for those working in health related areas, that impact cuts across patients and staff alike; increasing workloads at a time when minds feel dull and limbs heavy in the excessive heat.

That’s when even small interventions such as taking regular water breaks and eating small amounts regularly rather than big meals can make a difference. So too can taking steps to shift routine workloads such as phone answering or appointment management to others in order to create time and space to step back and reset mind and body for the work ahead.

Perhaps it is a good thing therefore that people are starting to take more notice of the impact of heat and looking for ways to mitigate it. Certainly, visits to the NHS heat exhaustion advice page more than doubled in the first two days of the heat alert period; with more than twenty-eight thousand visits to the page. And the more publicity this potentially dangerous side-effect of summer receives the better.

According to a Red Cross report ‘Feeling the Heat’ in the summer of 2020 more than two and a half thousand excess deaths occurred due to summer heat in England. That figure is expected to treble by 2050. Babies and young children, the elderly, those who are pregnant or have a range of underlying health conditions are more vulnerable. However, despite the Red Cross report commenting that only 9% of adults believe that they are vulnerable in heatwaves, heat stroke can affect anyone.

Heat exhaustion on its own isn’t necessarily life-threatening. Unless, that is, if individuals fail to treat it swiftly by cooling down and replacing lost fluids. That’s why knowing when to stop and take a step back is so important. Symptoms of heat exhaustion can include tiredness, dizziness, headaches, and feeling sick.

When not treated on time or if there is prolonged exposure, particularly to physical stresses in hot temperatures, heat exhaustion can develop into heat stroke. When this occurs the body’s temperature becomes dangerously high. Other symptoms might include fast breathing or shortness of breath, a fast heartbeat, confusion, a seizure, or loss of consciousness. Without rapid intervention heat stroke can lead to a swelling in the brain or organ damage and can be fatal.