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Warning over heatwave dangers to elderly

26th May 2006

The government is today warning elderly Britons and those responsible for caring for older people to be especially vigilant in the case of a heatwave this summer.

Ahead of the summer season the department of health is publishing a new guide advising people how to cope in the advent of extremely hot weather, after unexpected temperature rises in previous summers cost people their lives.

In the summer months of 2003 a heatwave affected most of north-west Europe, particularly in France, with temperatures averaging above 35C during August. Although the UK was thought to have escaped relatively unscathed, 2,000 more deaths were reported in this period compared to the average, with nine out of ten people killed aged over 75.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer, explained that the new guidelines on coping with extreme heat should help both health workers and members of the public prepare for the worst.

"Taking action in advance can help reduce the number of excess deaths from heat. This plan will help make sure that the NHS and care services are prepared should a heatwave arrive," he said.

"The elderly are particularly vulnerable and it is important that those aged over 75, especially those who live alone or in care homes, take precautions to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke."

Although extreme heatwaves in the UK are uncommon, if the temperature exceeds 32C in London during the day a heatwave is officially declared.