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Almost 900 ‘excess deaths’ during 2019 heatwaves, official figures show

It is the highest number since 2016, Public Health England said.

There were 572 excess deaths estimated during the heatwave between July 21 and 28 (Ben Birchall/PA)
There were 572 excess deaths estimated during the heatwave between July 21 and 28 (Ben Birchall/PA)

By Jemma Crew, PA Health and Science Correspondent

Almost 900 “excess deaths” are thought to have occurred during the heatwaves of summer 2019, official data shows.

There were an estimated 892 excess deaths in the over-65s over summer last year, Public Health England (PHE) said.

This is the number of deaths additional to those which were expected as per the baseline mortality.

Provisional data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last October indicated the number of deaths had spiked on the hottest day of the summer – July 25.

Temperatures reached 38.7C (101.66F) in Cambridge, breaking the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK.

There were 572 excess deaths estimated during July 21-28 and 320 estimated between August 23-29.

The areas which saw significant excess deaths were the North East and East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber, East of England, London and South East.

No “significant excess mortality” was observed during the first heatwave of the summer – June 28-30, PHE added.

Emer OConnell, head of extreme events and health protection at PHE, said: “Parts of the country experienced exceptionally high temperatures during summer 2019 and we know that periods of hot weather can lead to increases in the number of deaths.

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(PA Graphics)

“These deaths were not confined to areas with the highest temperatures, as the hot weather affected people across the country, and highlight the importance of taking protective action even in places where the temperatures are less extreme.

“As our climate changes, hot spells are expected to be more frequent and more intense.

“PHE is responding to this risk by updating the Heatwave Plan for England with an adverse weather and health plan which will improve existing guidance and focus on reducing the health risks associated with adverse weather whilst addressing the health risks identified in the second Climate Change Risk Assessment.”

Older people, babies and young children, and people with long-term health conditions such as heart or breathing problems are most vulnerable to the effects of prolonged hot weather.

A number of excess deaths were estimated to have occurred in the under-65s during the three heatwaves, but was not deemed to be statistically significant by PHE.

The 2019 total is the highest for three years, when there were 908 excess deaths in 2016.

A total of 3,441 older people have been killed in England by summer heatwave conditions since 2016, the figures show.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics, said: “Tragically, many of these deaths are likely to have been preventable.

“Previous research has shown that many of the people who are killed by heatwave conditions die in their own homes or in care homes that overheat.

“The Committee on Climate Change pointed out in July 2019 in its most recent progress report to Parliament that the Government has failed to set out a coherent plan for implementing the adaptations required for existing or new homes to be safe and habitable in increasing temperatures.

“It also warned that the Government does not have a plan to address the lack of understanding of the extent of overheating risks in care facilities or how a move towards home-based care may alter the risks to patients and healthcare delivery from extreme weather.

“The Committee also noted that, although there has been a heatwave plan for England since 2004, there is no evidence that it has reduced the number of deaths that occur during hot weather.

“The Government needs to act on the advice of the Committee on Climate Change and take much more seriously the dangers of hot weather.

“The threat of deadly heatwaves is growing due to climate change and the death toll is likely to rise unless there is strong action to protect those who are most vulnerable to hot weather.”

PA

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