17 May 2016 15:37

Hotter, drier summers have serious implications for the UK’s ageing population, a new study shows.

A new research study, Care provision fit for a future climate, found that summertime overheating in care facilities is both a current and future risk. Yet there is little awareness of the problem, or preparation to prevent the health risks posed by a warming climate to the UK’s ageing population.

The study, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and carried out by researchers from Oxford Brookes, Lancaster and Manchester universities, found that due to a deeply culturally embedded assumption that being old means ‘feeling the cold’, there is little awareness that heat can also present a significant health risk.

As a result, the design, commissioning and management of care schemes have focused on keeping older people warm, not on keeping them cool. While all the care managers interviewed were aware of the Public Health England Heatwave Plan which offers guidance on how to prepare for, and respond to a heatwave, awareness among frontline staff was much lower.

Care scheme staff were aware of short-term reactive measures, such as hydration and mobile electric fans, but less so of more proactive measures that could prevent overheating such as external shading.

The report also found that there is no statutory maximum internal temperature for care schemes or guidance about the indoor temperatures at which overheating occurs and the health risks involved. “We found that there was a risk of overheating in all the sites,” said principal investigator, Professor Rajat Gupta, from the Low Carbon Building Group at Oxford Brookes University. “A number of design and management issues were to blame for this, including confusion amongst care home staff about how to work heating and ventilation systems and confusion over whose responsibility it was to control the heating.

Professor Gordon Walker, co-investigator and Co-Director of the Demand Centre at Lancaster University, said: “Care homes are under a lot of pressure and frontline care staff have a very difficult job to do. Even so the expectation should be that in a caring environment there should be no premature deaths due to heatwave conditions.

“Vulnerable residents are well protected from the cold in the winter, there needs to be a similar priority given to protecting them from heat in the summer, particularly as climate change starts to bite and heatwaves become more frequent and intense”

“This is one of the first studies of its kind into the risks of overheating in the care sector in the UK due to increasing temperatures expected from climate change,” said Katharine Knox, Policy and Research Manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

“The research shows that the risks of overheating are not just an issue for the future but are already a risk in hot weather today.”

It concludes that there is a need to raise awareness of heat risks in the care sector and highlights a need to improve preparedness through developing local strategic responses with input from designers, development teams, care home managers and staff.

It recommends enhanced regulations, standards and guidance from key national health and care bodies and central Government to address the risks of overheating.

Read the full report and supplementary case study reports.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Public Health England will be holding a free, one-day conference for health and social care professionals on Tuesday 5 July at Leeds Becket University., where the findings of this research study will be discussed. To book places, please email your name, organisation, contact details and any dietary requirements to YHR-Reception@phe.gov.uk.