England saw the highest excess mortality figure from heatwaves this year since records began in 2004, health officials said on Friday, after a hot summer that saw temperatures rise to all-time highs.
England recorded 2,803 excess deaths among those aged 65 and over during summer heat waves this year, possibly due to complications arising from extreme heat, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said in a statement. The figures exclude deaths from Covid-19.
That number rose to 3,271 when including the nation of Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland were not included in the statistics.
“These estimates show clearly that high temperatures can lead to premature death for those who are vulnerable,” UKHSA Chief Scientific Officer Isabel Oliver said.
“Prolonged periods of hot weather are a particular risk for elderly people, those with heart and lung conditions or people who are unable to keep themselves cool such as people with learning disabilities and Alzheimer’s disease.”
The figures highlight just how dangerous heat can be, particularly in places like the UK, which is largely ill-equipped for long heat waves. Experts often call heat a “silent killer” because it can be just as deadly as other extreme weather events, like hurricanes, or even moreso, yet awareness of its threat level can be low.
Britain recorded its highest ever temperature, of just above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in eastern England on July 19.
The heat wave, which contributed to fires across large grass areas, destroyed property and pressured transport infrastructure, was made at least 10 times more likely because of climate change, scientists said.
Around 1,000 excess deaths were recorded among those over 65 between July 17-20, the UKHSA said, while the Aug. 8-17 period recorded an estimated 1,458 excess deaths.
Statisticians use “excess deaths” — a term that became more commonplace during the coronavirus pandemic to describe the number of fatalities in excess of normally observed mortality numbers for a particular time of year.
Despite peaks in mortality during heat waves, the majority of days in the winter usually show a higher number of deaths than in the summer, ONS Head of Mortality Analysis Sarah Caul said.