NHS’ top nurse urges public to enjoy sun safely this weekend

England’s most senior nurse has today urged the public to look out for vulnerable relatives and neighbours when temperatures soar this weekend, revealing that thousands end up in hospital each year due to heat and allergies.

Ahead of what is set to be the hottest day of the year, Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, called on the public to help prevent children, older people and other vulnerable groups falling victim to the sun’s heat and rays, and to use the NHS website and free 111 phoneline for fast advice on how to get the right help if things do go wrong.

Ruth will be taking her own advice this weekend as she hosts a 9th birthday celebration for her daughter and her friends in her garden, and has already stocked up on sunblock and cold drinks to ensure the party doesn’t end in tears.

Almost 3,000 people were admitted to hospital because of heat-related ailments in 2017/18, including 632 with severe sunburn, 100 cases of heat exhaustion and 223 cases of sun- and heat-stroke – and these figures did not cover last summer’s heatwave.

Being out in the great outdoors at this time of year also presents a risk for those with allergies, with nearly 3,000 people admitted to hospital due to the effects of pollen and 5,700 due to being stung by wasps, hornets, and other insects.

The risk of serious illness is much higher for the elderly, children and young people, and those who already have health conditions including heart and breathing problems.

However, many more people of all ages will go to their local A&E and Urgent Treatment Centres for more minor conditions, which can be better dealt with at home or with over-the-counter remedies and advice from community pharmacists.

The Chief Nursing Officer urged those with less serious conditions to ‘talk before they walk’, by getting advice from the free NHS 111 phone and online service to check symptoms and decide on the best course of action.

Visitors to the website looking for advice on heat exhaustion and heatstroke increased by over two thirds to almost a quarter of a million during the summer last year (137,743 in May to 230,611 in July), while more than 150,000 people sought help for heat rash in July, up from 128,000 in May.

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “Like lots of people I’m looking forward to having fun in the sun with family and friends this weekend, but nobody wants to spend a pleasant day stuck in a hospital or urgent treatment centre.

“So whether you’re going to be out in the garden like me or heading off to Glastonbury, it’s really important to take simple precautions like drinking plenty of water, using high-factor sunscreen and remembering to take allergy medication if you need it – as is making sure to check in on neighbours and loved ones who can suffer the most from heat and pollen.

“And while the NHS will always be there for those who need it, people with minor illnesses and injuries can help frontline staff provide care quickly for those in the greatest need.

“People should talk before they walk, and join the hundreds of thousands getting fast and free advice on the best course of action for them from the website or 111 phone line.”

While the effects of too much sun can affect anyone, some are more at risk to the danger of hot weather including:

  • Young children, babies, and the elderly, especially those over 75;
  • People with serious chronic conditions and mobility problems such as Parkinson’s disease or those who have had a stroke, and;
  • People on certain medications, including those that affect sweating and temperature control.

Ten tips for coping in hot weather

  1. Shut windows and pull down the shades when it is hotter outside. You can open the windows for ventilation when it is cooler.
  2. If you’re vulnerable to the effects of heat, avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day (11am and 3pm).
  3. Keep rooms cool by using shades or reflective material outside the windows. If this isn’t possible, use light-coloured curtains and keep them closed (metallic blinds and dark curtains can make the room hotter).
  4. Have cool baths or showers, and splash yourself with cool water.
  5. Drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol – water, lower-fat milks and tea and coffee are good options.
  6. Listen to alerts on the radio, TV and social media about keeping cool.
  7. Plan ahead to make sure you have enough supplies, such as food, water and any medications you need.
  8. Identify the coolest room in the house so you know where to go to keep cool.
  9. Wear loose, cool clothing, and a hat and sunglasses if you go outdoors.
  10. Check up on friends, relatives and neighbours who may be less able to look after themselves.

To find out more, search ‘NHS hot weather’ online.