An Extreme Heat Warning is in place for all of England and Wales and parts of Scotland on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. During those times, the mercury is set to rival the highest temperature on record – 38.7C in Cambridge in 2019. The government’s COBRA committee met and agreed to increase the Heatwave Alert Level to 4 – which triggers a national emergency. It means “illness and death occurring among the fit and healthy – and not just in high-risk groups”.
A Level 4 heatwave triggers a “major incident” and “national emergency”. It happens when “a heatwave is so severe and/or prolonged” that “illness and death may occur among the fit and healthy – and not just in high-risk groups”. In addition, power and water shortages could occur.
The people most at risk during a heatwave are mainly the elderly, babies and young children, and those severely physically or mentally unwell. But at-risk groups include those living alone or in isolated areas, in south-facing top-level flats, those with drug and alcohol dependencies, and the homeless.
Forensic Healthcare Practitioners working in SARCs or Police Custody should be especially vigilant for signs of heat exhaustion and stroke among our vulnerable population over the coming days. Additionally, as Forensic Healthcare Practitioners, we have disproportionate contact with those with mental illness, substance misuse, alcohol misuse and dependency, homelessness, and a population that does not follow the mainstream or social media. As a result, they may be unprepared and at further risk.
Check for signs of heat exhaustion
The signs of heat exhaustion include:
- a headache
- dizziness and confusion
- loss of appetite and feeling sick
- excessive sweating and pale, clammy skin
- cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
- fast breathing or pulse
- a high temperature of 38C or above
- being very thirsty
Things you can do to cool someone down
If someone has heat exhaustion, follow these four steps:
- Move them to a cool place.
- Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly.
- Get them to drink plenty of water. Sports or rehydration drinks are OK.
- Cool their skin – spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them. Cold packs around the armpits or neck are good, too.
Stay with them until they’re better.
They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes.
Preventing heat exhaustion and heatstroke in custody
There’s a high risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke during hot weather or exercise.
To help prevent heat exhaustion or heatstroke:
- encourage plenty of cold drinks and make sure cold drinks are readily available, especially for those isolated in a cell. Avoid hot or caffeinated drinks
- Offer cool showers
- Provide fresh loose clothing
- Encourage access to sprinkle water over skin or clothes
- Keep a close eye on those intoxicated with alcohol and withdrawing. They are at increased risk of dehydration.
- Advice police to avoid restraint and