Heat-related deaths in the UK could triple in three decades according to a damning new study.
The British Red Cross is warning that there is a dangerous ‘perception gap’ in the country around awareness of the risks of hot weather.
It comes after a heatwave last week prompted an unprecedented extreme heat warning – even as temperatures reached just 32.2 °C; – and as scientists predicted the UK could see its first 40°C day within a decade.
As one scientist suggested the recent heat may have led to the deaths of 1,000 people; the Red Cross report – called Feeling The Heat – suggested deaths could total around 7,000 a year within 30 years.
With global temperatures rising and scientists increasingly alarmed by the climate crisis; the charity looked at how aware people are of the risks of heatwaves.
It added that heatwaves and spells of hot weather have increased in the UK and will continue to become longer and more intense; suggesting the UK is not prepared for what is to come.
The report said: ‘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 research found that the risks heatwaves can cause are not matched by the level of public concern.
It suggested that the August 2020 heatwaves caused a record 2,556 excess deaths in England; as well as significant disruption across the UK.
But the poll suggested more than a third (37%) believe heatwaves will be a problem in the future, not now.
More than a quarter (26%) of the 2,000 UK adults surveyed last month saw heatwaves as a good thing.
Last August, 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 £770 million to the UK economy.
Despite being a high-risk group; more than half (57%) of those aged 75 and over said they do not consider themselves as vulnerable to the impact of heatwaves, the research found.
Its results suggest that 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%).
The poll found that 40% of adults have never seen information on how to protect themselves during a heatwave, and 9% said they have never had advanced warning that a UK heatwave is expected.
Former TV weather presenter Sian Lloyd has joined the British Red Cross in calling for greater awareness and understanding of the risks associated with rising temperatures.
She said: The UK is getting hotter.
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.’
Globally, new research also suggests ‘record shattering’ heatwaves will become much more common.