6,000 could die in severe heatwave by 2017

There is a 25% chance of a severe heatwave hitting Britain by summer 2017 - potentially killing more than 6,000 people - a group of scientists have warned.

Increasing temperatures as a result of climate change have also created a one in forty chance of South East England suffering a severe heatwave by 2012, according to a joint report from the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency.

Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK 2008, an update of a report published in 2002, said: “In terms of conventional thinking about risks to health, a risk of 1 in 40 is high.”

The team of independent scientists behind the report found that deaths among the over 55s rose sharply when average temperatures exceeded just 25 Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) for several consecutive days.

During the August 2003 heatwave, the temperatures peaked at a record breaking 38.5 Celsius (101.4 Fahrenheit), recorded in Kent, and more than 2,000 people in the UK died in a 10-day period.

To mitigate the risks, the report recommended Government should focus more on the health impacts of climate change, the public should take better note of health advice in hot weather and more research should be carried out on the potential health problems identified in the report.

The report also warned that air pollution climate of the UK will continue to change, putting up to 1,500 extra lives at risk.

It said: “Though concentrations of a number of important pollutants are likely to decline over the next half-century, the concentration of ozone is likely to increase.

“This will increase attributable deaths and hospital admissions. The increases are likely to be significant.”

Warmer summers are also expected to cause more cases of skin cancer, increase foodborne diseases and affect drinking water.

However, the scientists did have some good news – the warmer climate will reduce the number of deaths in the winter, and is not expected to increase the risk of diseases such as malaria.

Kate Martin

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