Thousands more people died than expected this summer as a result of Britain’s baking Saharan temperatures, official figures show.
Across the nation’s five separate heatwaves – including the record-breaking one in July, when the mercury surpassed 40C for the first time ever – an extra 3,200 fatalities were logged.
Analysts said they’ve never seen such high levels of excess mortality in heatwaves since records began nearly two decades ago.
Statisticians also expect the toll will only climb higher in the coming weeks, as delayed death registrations continue to trickle through.
Almost all fatalities from the heatwaves – which triggered devastating wildfires and hosepipe bans – occurred among the over-65s, in what health chiefs say demonstrates the deadly impact rising temperatures can have on at-risk groups.
Health chiefs today warned that the UK must adapt to living safely with even hotter summers inevitable in the future as a result of climate change.
The graph shows the number of daily deaths between June and August 2022 (red line), the five-year average of daily deaths (blue line) and heatwave periods (red bars)
The graphic from the ONS shows the proportion of daily excess deaths among the over-70s (blue line) and under-70s (pink line) in England and Wales. Death rates jumped among both cohorts during heatwaves (shown in grey bars), although fatalities were still largely below the five-year average among the under-70s
People on the beach in Brighton, East Sussex on July 19, 2022 as temperatures reached 40C (104F) in the UK for the first time
An aerial view of people enjoying the hot weather on the beach at Cullercoats Bay in North Tyneside on August 10
The dried bed at Heronry Pond in Wanstead Park , east London, on August 10
London Fire Brigade dealing with the aftermath of a grass fire in Rainham, east London, on August 10
HOW DOES THE HEAT KILL?
Hot weather can cause dehydration, which causes blood to thicken. This can raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
It also lowers blood pressure, making it harder to push blood around the body. This, in extreme cases, can lead to blood clots and strokes.
Overheating is particularly dangerous for patients with heart and breathing problems.
There is also a higher risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, especially if exercising outdoors when it’s hot. This is caused by not drinking enough and losing fluids through sweat.
Studies have also found accidents and injuries, such as from car crashes, are higher worldwide during hot spells.
Experts believe this is because heat can interfere with thinking, making mistakes more likely.
The data, released in a joint report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), shows the deadly effects of this summer’s scorching temperatures.
Analysis by the ONS found that between June and August, 56,303 deaths occurred in England and Wales.
The figure is 3,271 (6.2 per cent) more than expected – based on the five-year average for that time of year.
The ONS believes the true figure will actually be higher because around eight per cent of deaths for the summer months are still to be registered.
The vast majority were clustered around Britain’s five heat periods – defined as days when England’s average temperature exceeded 20C (68F) or when a level 3 heat warning was issued.
Heat periods took place from June 16 to 19, July 10 to 25, July 30 to August 5, August 8 to 17 and August 23 to 25.
The second heatwave was the most deadly, with 2,227 deaths logged – 10.4 per cent above the average.
This heatwave saw the mercury hit 40.3C (104.5F) in Coningsby, Lincolnshire on July 19, marking Britain’s hottest ever day.
Each period of extreme heat was followed by a sharp fall in deaths, however.
Statisticians said this suggests a short-term mortality displacement – when deaths among the vulnerable that were going to happen anyway are ‘brought forward’ to within heat periods.
Experts argued a similar pattern happened during the first wave of Covid.
More women (2,159) than men (1,115) died in the heatwave this year, reversing the trend seen over the last five years.
And older age groups were hardest hit. Around 5,000 over-70s died during scorching days – but the overall figure was brought down to 3,271 because there were nearly 1,800 fewer deaths than expected among younger groups.
The summer saw maximum temperature records broken across the UK, triggering wildfires across the UK that left villages ‘looking like warzones’.
Pressure mounted on the emergency services, as thousands of fires took place across the country, swimmers got into difficulties and accidents soared.
Passengers were left stranded as trains were ground to a halt, hosepipe bans were imposed across the country and water companies raised the alarm over supply worries.
The Met Office issued a ‘red’ extreme heat weather warning during the mid-July heatwave, while the UKHSA issued a level four heat alert – both for the first time ever.
Separate number crunching from the UKHSA found there were a total of 2,803 deaths than expected over the five heatwave periods this summer.
The ONS graphic shows the average number of daily deaths between June and September from 2016 to 2022 on heat-period days (green) and non-heat period days (blue). Deaths on hot days are consistently higher than cooler spells
The ONS data shows the proportion of excess deaths during heatwaves that are above the five-year average, divided by sex, with males shown in pink and females shown in blue. Every year, there have been more deaths among men than women – but the trend reversed in 2022
The graphic shows the number of deaths that occurred before (blue bars), during (green bars) and after (dark blue bars) heatwaves divided by cause of death
Deaths in each of Britain’s five heatwaves of summer 2022
Period of heat: June 16 to 19
Excess deaths: 275
Period of heat: July 10 to 25
Excess deaths: 2,227
Period of heat: July 30 to August 5
Excess deaths: 10
Period of heat: August 8 to 17
Excess deaths: 1,279
Period of heat: August 23 to 25
Excess deaths: -520
It is the highest figure recorded since the Heatwave Plan for England was introduced in 2004, in a bid to protect the population from heat-related harm.
It introduced the heat-health alert service, which grades temperatures from no-risk level zero to ’emergency response’ level four – meaning the heat could interfere with the NHS, cause power or water shortages and trigger illness and death among the fit and healthy, as well as at-risk groups.
The figure is slightly lower than the ONS’ as it does not include deaths among the under-65s or those that occurred in Wales and excludes Covid deaths.
Climate scientists advising the Government have warned heatwave deaths could more than double by 2050, when yearly tolls could exceed 7,000.
Isabel Oliver, chief scientific officer at the UKHSA, said: ‘These estimates show clearly that high temperatures can lead to premature death for those who are vulnerable.
‘Higher excess deaths occurred during the hottest days this year and a warming climate means we must adapt to living safely with hotter summers in the future.
‘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.’
Sarah Caul, head of mortality analysis at the ONS, said: ‘During the UK summer of record-breaking temperatures, there was an increase in deaths.
‘However, these spikes around the hottest days were followed by periods of below average mortality.
‘This is likely to be a result of short-term mortality displacement, especially among older age groups, where people died a few days or weeks earlier than expected.
‘This trend is consistent with what we have seen in previous summers with heatwave periods.
‘It is also the case that despite peaks in mortality during heatwaves, the majority of days in the winter period (December to March) show a higher number of deaths than we see during summer.’