Environment

Climate change is increasing hospital admissions in England

New ONS figures show warmer weather is already impacting the NHS. Experts have previously warned the health service is unprepared for climate change.

Higher temperatures are linked with existing health conditions and an increase in injuries. Image: Lewis Clarke (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Hospitals in England are beginning to feel climate change bite as new data reveals a link between higher temperatures and increased hospital admissions. 

A new, experimental, dataset on climate-related mortality from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows hospital admissions associated with warm days increased by 108,722 between 2010 and 2018.

When factoring in the decrease in admissions associated with cold days, the net increase was 72,121 – or 8,013 extra admissions per year.

Researchers say the data confirms previous research that “the warming trajectory predicted by climate scientists is already affecting health in England and Wales”. 

The ONS also looked at heat-related deaths for England and Wales between 2001 and 2020, finding relatively little increase in the number of deaths associated with warmer weather.

Researchers warned, however, that direct harm from extreme heat is likely to become more common over time. 

Data on injuries related to warmer days was collected for England only, and suggests that hotter days are leading to more accidents and exacerbating existing health conditions.

The ONS said previous research has linked heatwaves to impacts on respiratory conditions, maternal and infant health, violent behaviour and suicide.

Researchers say links between mental health and climate change are of “growing concern”, with the risk of death for patients with mental illness increasing by around 5 per cent for every extra 1 degree of temperature increase.

This is attributable to several different factors, including people with certain mental health conditions being less able to take care of themselves in extreme weather.

Health experts have previously warned the NHS is unprepared for the impacts of climate change on public health.

In 2016, the newly-formed UK Health Alliance on Climate Change said the health service is unprepared for dealing with the fallout of extreme weather such as heatstroke, with members of the alliance urging ministers not to “wait for disaster” before acting.

The NHS may also be under threat from flooding, as climate change looks set to increase the severity and frequency of flood events.

A recent report by think tank Bright Blue found that NHS services have been impacted by flooding a number of times since 2007.

In July 2021, a major incident was declared after two hospitals in London were unable to operate A&E services following flash flooding.

The government’s own advisers on the Climate Change Committee have repeatedly warned the UK is lagging behind on adaptive measures for dealing with risks posed by climate change – particularly with regards to increased temperatures and the frequency of flooding.

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