NHS ‘top tips’ for families to stay safe as heatwave marks start of school holidays

England’s most senior nurse has today set out ways to stay safe during the hot weather, as millions of families kick off their long summer break.

Much of the country is set for a heatwave this week, with hot weather from France and Spain helping push temperatures to as high as 34 degrees celsius.

With thousands of people ending up in hospital each year as a result of heat and allergies, England’s chief nurse has called on the public to help prevent children and older people falling victim to the extreme heat. She advises people to use the NHS website and free 111 phoneline for fast advice on how to get the right help if things do go wrong.

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 heatstroke.

The heatwave that gripped the country during last summer will have added to these numbers, with health chiefs expecting more people to require care this July and August.

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.

Getting out and about in the hot weather can also trigger allergies, with around 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, last year.

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.

The Chief Nurse 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.

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.

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said: “Everyone can take simple steps to avoid fun in the sun turning in to a holiday in hospital.

“As millions of families kick off the long summer break, it’s really important to take common sense precautions and follow our NHS top tips like drinking plenty of water, using high-factor sunscreen and taking allergy medicine where it’s needed.

“The NHS will be there always for anyone who needs it, but everyone can help by checking in on vulnerable friends and neighbours, while making use of the free, convenient and helpful phone and online NHS services for minor illnesses, to help frontline staff provide care for those in emergency and serious 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 to 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.