Heat-Related Deaths in UK Could Triple In The Next 30 Years

A quarter of Brits see heatwaves as a good thing without understanding the risks.

Heat-related deaths in the UK could triple in the next 30 years, according to a new report by the British Red Cross.

The charity’s Feeling The Heat report looks at how prepared the UK is for rising temperatures and more frequent heatwaves, and warns of a dangerous perception gap when it comes to awareness of the risks posed by heat.

Heatwaves – defined as a period of extreme heat lasting three days or more – have increased in the UK, with 84 registered between 2000 and 2020, and will continue to do so, the report says, both in intensity and length.

“The average length of warm spells have more than doubled in length in the last few decades, and by 2050 the UK will be 50% more likely to experience hot summers, while heat-related deaths could more than triple, to around 7,000 per year,” the charity’s briefing says.

The report, which surveyed 2,000 UK adults in June, comes after another period of weather in the UK that prompted extreme heat warnings, and found the risks that can come from heatwaves are not matched by the level of public concern.

A man sunbathing in St James's Park, London on the hottest day of the year so far.
A man sunbathing in St James's Park, London on the hottest day of the year so far.

Even the word heatwave has positive connotations for the public, and is seen as bringing good weather, with a survey suggesting more than a quarter (26%) of people see heatwaves as a good thing. Meanwhile, more than a third (37%) believe heatwaves will be a problem in the future, but not now.

However, August 2020 heatwaves caused a record 2,556 excess deaths in England, as well as significant disruption across the UK, it warns. A severe water shortage led to more than 300 households in West Sussex having no water for five days, and there were an estimated five million staff days lost, at a cost of approximately £770m to the UK economy.

The survey suggests the majority (60%) of UK adults have experienced at least one adverse effect of hot weather in the UK, most commonly headaches (33%), dizziness or feeling faint (22%), or heat rash (21%). However it found that 40% of adults have never seen information on how to protect themselves during a heatwave, and 9% said they’ve never had advanced warning of a heatwave.

People who are more vulnerable to heatwaves

Hot weather can impact us all, but the following groups can be more vulnerable, the report says:
  • Older people and people who live in care homes
  • Babies and children
  • People who are pregnant
  • People with chronic health conditions
  • People with mental health conditions
  • Those drinking to much or taking recreational drugs
  • People who live alone or are socially isolated
  • Homeless people and marginalised groups
  • Refugees and migrants
  • Outdoor workers

Despite those aged 75 and above being at high risk form these effects, more than half of this age group surveyed said they do not consider themselves as vulnerable to the impact of heatwaves, the research found.

“Through the British Red Cross’s work responding to emergencies here in the UK and abroad, we are already seeing the devastating impact of climate change, including hot weather,” the report says. “But we also know that extreme weather emergencies don’t need to be disasters.”

The charity is calling on the government to ensure the most vulnerable to heat have access to adequate information and support. Former TV weather presenter Sian Lloyd has joined the call for greater awareness and understanding of the risks associated with rising temperatures.

“The UK is getting hotter,” she says. “As a result of climate change, heatwaves are becoming longer and more extreme, and many people’s health and wellbeing will continue to suffer as a result.

“We already know that certain groups are more at risk from extreme heat, including people aged over 75, adults with underlying health conditions, children and babies, as well as people living in top floor flats and in built-up urban areas where temperatures are higher.”

Matthew Killick, director of crisis response and community resilience at British Red Cross, said: “Despite what many think, UK heatwaves can impact us all.

“But heatwaves don’t need to be deadly. From checking on your neighbours to providing first aid, simple early actions can keep you, your family and friends safe and well during hot weather.”