A senior medic has said he “fears for patients and staff” as parts of the UK look set to experience record temperatures.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said staff were “struggling” as “few lessons had been learned” from last year’s heatwaves.
There were more than 800 excess deaths during summer 2018, when Dr Scriven also joined the Royal College of Nursing in raising concerns of temperatures on wards above 30C.
“It is safe to say no lessons have been learned from last year and few, if any, hospitals are prepared for the impact of such intense heat, making the lives of staff miserable and putting patients at risk,” he said.
“This is related not only to the direct effects of extremely hot weather but also in that overheated and exhausted staff are at risk of making errors they wouldn’t make under normal circumstances.
“With today’s forecast of potentially unprecedented temperatures of up to 39C in some parts of the UK, I fear for patients and staff alike.”
Dr Scriven warned hospitals were already seeing the highest levels of July activity which will “further stress the system”.
“We are already seeing the highest levels of July activity on record – as high or higher than we would see in winter – and, again, the warnings were there last year,” he explained.
“The problem is that the drum has been banged – particularly by SAM – for some time now on both our winter and summer problems in the NHS, yet there has been very little in terms of action to address issues on the frontline.
“These excruciating temperatures have really magnified the dangers of providing care with understaffed teams in ageing buildings which are designed primarily to keep the heat in and patients warm during winters.”
Dr Scriven said he welcomed new prime minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to upgrade hospitals and tackle the crisis in social care provision but “won’t hold my breath”.
“While it is welcome to see Mr Johnson recognise two of the very issues relevant to both summer and winter pressures on the NHS, this is a man who has also promised to deliver Brexit by 31 October,” he said.
“I won’t hold my breath but any statement of intent to address some of the difficulties we continue to face is positive.”
He added: “Given the prime minister’s decision to keep Matt Hancock in post at the Department of Health and Social Care, we hope very much the secretary of state will now engage with us in trying to improve matters all year round.”