Staying safe in hot weather – advice for health professionals and the public

Very young children, pregnant women and people with existing health conditions are especially vulnerable to heat. Serious health impacts include dehydration, asthma and kidney disease. We signpost to advice to help us stay safe as we enjoy the summer.
Children running through a grove of trees, with dappled sunlight

Extreme heat events have increased in the UK in recent years, with climate change attributed as an underlying cause. Lancet Countdown reports have consistently shown that vulnerability to the extremes of heat are increasing in every region of the world. Indeed, heat vulnerability in the UK has been steadily rising, and in 2019 reached its highest level since records began in 1990.

This increase underscores the need for accelerated adaptation to protect health. 

The increased risk of heat for older people and those with pre-existing conditions is widely acknowledged. However, the impacts of heat are also exacerbated in other vulnerable groups.

Very young children (under 5) are especially vulnerable to heat, with health impacts including dehydration, asthma and kidney disease. There is also a clear association between heat exposure during pregnancy and premature births and low birthweight, as well as early evidence for increased risk of stillbirth, and these risks may be heightened for women from low socioeconomic groups.

Given the trends in temperature rises, heat is therefore an increasingly important consideration for health care professionals working in paediatric and maternity care in the UK.

Supporting vulnerable people - advice for professionals

Earlier this month (June 2023), the UKHSA released a new Weather-Health Alerting System, which provides an early warning to the health and care sector when adverse temperatures are likely to impact on the health and wellbeing of the population. The core alerting system for the Heat-Health Alerts (HHA) runs from 1 June to 30 September. You can sign up for alerts from this system on the HHA website. 

Alongside these alerts sits updated guidance for supporting vulnerable people during hot weather, which includes children under 5 years of age. There is also dedicated guidance for looked after children and those in early years during heatwaves and we would encourage relevant teachers and professionals to familarise themselves with this. 

Useful resources for further reading: 

Advice for the public 

The updated Government guidance, Beat the heat: staying safe in hot weather advice outlines the key public health messages on heat. The main sections cover: 

  • Actions you can take to stay safe in hot weather
  • About hot weather and health 
  • People at higher risk of becoming unwell in hot weather 
  • How to cool down
  • How to be prepared for hot weather 
  • Staying well when there is hot weather 
  • Staying safe when swimming 

Much of the advice on beating the heat is common sense.

Before hot weather arrives, it is a good time to think about what you can do to protect yourself and your family and friends from heat. If spending time outdoors remember to take water or other hydrating drinks with you. And, protect yourself from the sun during the hottest hours of the day, usually between 11am and 3pm.