Heatwave caused spike in deaths this summer

Very young or old people plus those with health conditions are losing their lives as a result of climate change-induced heatwaves, new figures show

Hundreds more people died on Britain’s hottest day on record than the average, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed.

A temperature of 38.7C was recorded in Cambridge on July 25 this year – at the same time as the daily death count rose from 1,100 to nearly 1,500, a spike of nearly a fifth more than the number of deaths usually recorded on the same date (1,259). This number could still rise as a result of delays in deaths being registered.

However the ONS said it couldn’t say how many of those deaths are directly attributable to the heatwave at this early stage.

Sarah Caul, head of fatality analysis for the ONS, said the temporary rise in deaths was followed by a period of fewer than average, so the number of people who died over the summer as a whole was roughly the same as is average.

She added that this suggests the most vulnerable people, like the young or old or those with pre-existing heart conditions, are most at risk of being affected by the heat.

Last year the Met Office said that human-induced climate change was making summer heatwaves around 30 times more likely than usual.

And just a few months ago, French authorities reported that record-high temperatures were behind the deaths of nearly 1,500 people – half of whom were aged over 75.

A similar phenomenon was observed in England in spring and summer last year, with an extra 382 deaths occurring in the last week of June when temperatures rose about 30C.

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Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics said at the time: “It is likely that many of the people who died during the hot weather suffered from underlying illnesses, such as respiratory disease.

“Nonetheless, many of these deaths may have been prevented if buildings were better adapted to prevent overheating.

“The government has been warned by experts for a number of years that the awareness of the public needed to be raised about the increasing risks of heatwaves due to climate change.”

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Image: David Iliff