DHSC updates heatwave guidance

July 18, 2022

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has updated its guidance offering support and advice for residential and care settings during heatwaves.

Resources include a checklist for managers and actions staff can take.  The guidance builds on the Government’s own experience in England and on expert advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the EuroHEAT project in developing other national heatwave plans. It is part of a national programme to reduce the health risks by advising people what to do in the event of a heatwave before it happens.

The Relatives and Residents (R&RA) helpline is hearing from worried and distressed families about the soaring temperatures their relatives are enduring in care settings. Helpline callers have found their loved one ‘dripping with sweat’, in distress or undressing to cool down.

“We’re really worried about how hot my relative’s room gets, as the sun shines through the window all afternoon. Her room is like a prison cell with the curtains shut. Even in April there was one day she was dripping with sweat and I feared she wouldn’t be alive the next day to celebrate her birthday.” R&RA Helpline client

R&RA has said many care homes are simply not set up for extreme temperatures, being housed in old or repurposed buildings. Luxuries like air conditioning are rare. If windows face the afternoon sun, the response is often to close the curtains – for people confined to their rooms (by lockdown or mobility) this can make their home feel like a prison, they tell us. The R&RA has issued advice for people living in care and their families. 

Helen Wildbore, Director of R&RA said ‘Providers will know the dangers posed to older people by extreme heat and its vital that their risk assessments and action plans are shared with care users and their families/carers. This will not only help to ease any worries relatives/carers may have but communication is also key to ensuring risks are identified and plans are individualised. Where homes have an outbreak, it is vital that the Government’s heatwave guidance is followed and people are not isolated in hot rooms.’

Since last year, a new heat health related warning system has been introduced in partnership between the Met Office and the UKHSA, forewarning of periods of high temperatures, which may affect the health of the public. The UK Health Security Agency has increased its heat health warning from level three to level four - a ‘national emergency’.

A red extreme heat warning is in place for Monday and Tuesday for an area from London to Manchester and the Vale of York.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has encouraged the public to check up on those who may be more vulnerable, including the elderly and those with heart and respiratory problems.

Local authorities are involved in year-round preparations for exceptional weather conditions, making sure local areas are as able to cope with high temperatures as they are with freezing temperatures or flooding.

Cllr David Fothergill, Chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said, ‘As the climate is warming, it is likely that periods of extreme heat may become more common in the UK and so councils will be working with others to ensure communities can be kept safe.

‘No-one is immune to the power of the sun. Drinking plenty of water, keeping our homes cool, avoiding direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day and using sunscreen are sensible precautions we all need to remember. Looking around at how our older neighbours are coping as we walk our children to school or head to the beach for a day out takes no effort, but could be crucial in making sure they are also able to make the best of the summer.’

Like so many social care providers across the UK, plans were already in place across all of Agincare's services, including home care, to ensure that those we support are kept safe and well. That includes usual measures, such as ensuring people have sufficient fluids, store medication correctly and are given assistance to keep their homes cool and comfortable.

Agincare Chief Executive Raina Summerson told CMM, ‘As you would expect we are well prepared for the hot weather in line with NHS and UK Health Security Agency guidance. We are also carrying out extra checks and calls, and our teams remain vigilant to recognise signs and symptoms of heat related illness amongst everyone that draws on our services, especially those most at risk. We’re paying close attention to the welfare of our teams, providing advice and practical support such as hydration stations across our locations.’

Commenting on the care workforce, Raina Summerson added, ‘The role of the social care workforce is absolutely crucial at times like this in keeping the most vulnerable in society safe and well.  Whether it’s a heatwave or Covid, social care teams never fail to step up when needed most, and it’s something that deserves much more recognition, respect and reward at a national level.’

The Care Workers Charity thanked care workers for all their dedication and said on Twitter, ‘We'd like to send out a huge THANK YOU to all the care workers who continue to care for those who draw on care services throughout the UK regardless of weather warnings or global pandemics. Please remember to stay hydrated and safe. #heatwave #staysafe #careworkers.’

Visit the DHSC website to read the heatwave guidance.

In other news, ARC England (Association for Real Change), the only membership organisation dedicated to supporting learning disability and autism service providers, is launching the ARC England Learning Disability Research Unit, a major new strategic research programme to provide more and better data for the sector.

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