NHS hospitals in England recorded 4000 overheating incidents last year as ward temperatures soar in heatwave

Hospitals recorded thousands of overheating incidents last year.Hospitals recorded thousands of overheating incidents last year.
Hospitals recorded thousands of overheating incidents last year. | NationalWorld
With temperatures set to soar into the high 30s in the coming days some NHS hospitals are at risk of overheating.

Hospitals in England recorded thousands of overheating incidents last year as temperatures on wards soared above 26 degrees, prompting concerns about the safety of vulnerable patients.

One health think tank has blamed years of underfunding in the NHS for a lack of air conditioning in most hospital buildings, warning patients are being put under “significant stress” by the extreme temperatures the health service is now “routinely” having to deal with.

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The latest figures for 2020/21 published by NHS Digital show more than 4,100 overheating incidents were recorded across 104 NHS Trusts – the second highest since current records began.

NHS trusts report overheating incidents when the daily maximum temperature exceeds 26˚C in each occupied ward or clinical area. Figures show half (50%) recorded at least one incident in the past year.

If the temperatures go above 26˚C, a risk assessment is to be carried out and action taken to ensure the safety of vulnerable patients.

NationalWorld’sanalysis comes as England bakes under exceptionally high temperatures with figures expected to hit around 40˚C in the coming days. The extreme weather has caused the Met Office to issue an amber weather alert.

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Overheating incidents in English hospitals are not uncommon, with almost 18,000 incidents reported since 2016/17. But figures suggest the issue is getting worse.

The total recorded in 2020/21 was a 39% increase over 2016/17, when just under 3,000 incidents were logged.

But overheating incidents peaked in 2018/19 when almost 4,500 were reported.

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On average 47% of trusts record at least one overheating incident each year in England.

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In 2019/20 more than half (57%) of NHS Trusts recorded at least one overheating incident – six percentage points greater than in 2020/21, when 50% recorded one.

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Hottest hospitals in England

Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust recorded the greatest number of overheating incidents last year.

The NHS trust recorded 1,000 incidents in total – almost double the second highest figure of 533 recorded at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust.

Wrightington, Wigan And Leigh NHS Foundation Trust also recorded the greatest number of incidents since 2016/17 with 3,666.

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David Evans, director of estates and facilities at Wrightington, Wigan And Leigh NHS Foundation Trust said patients are their “number one priority” and the Trust takes steps to combat the warm temperatures across their sites, including giving out ice lollies to patients and staff.

He said: “While the data on overheating in our hospitals appears to be excessive, incidents are recorded by area, so two wards in one hospital on the same day that exceed 26 ºc counts as two incidents.

“Given the large multi-site nature of our estate, this will inevitably increase the number of incidents

recorded when outside temperatures exceed seasonal norms.”

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Regionally, the North West had the greatest number of overheating incidents last year with 1,214 in total.

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But the South East had the greatest proportion of trusts recording overheating incidents at 62.1%. This was followed by London with 61.8% and South West with 60%.

‘Underinvestment in hospitals’

Nigel Edwards, chief executive at health think-tank Nuffield Trust, said extreme temperatures are putting patients and staff under “significant stress”.

“Most NHS buildings do not have air conditioning, which reflects the huge maintenance backlog and years of under investment in NHS facilities and infrastructure,” he said.

"When infrastructure fails, patients are also affected badly, with operations cancelled and care disrupted. This is both distressing and challenging with such a huge backlog of care facing the NHS.”

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Mr Edwards added new standards on maximum working temperatures need to be developed.

‘Retrofit hospitals to cope with heat waves’

Because of climate change, extreme weather conditions such as heat waves will become more common in the UK.

Charity Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs said these severe weather events will put children, older people and those with existing health conditions at the most risk, but stressed that there is still time to act by investing in energy efficiency and renewable power.

“On top of this, more must be done to cool down our towns and cities by creating green spaces and planting more trees, as well as retrofitting hospitals and other buildings so they are warm in winter and cool in summer,” he said.

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Government investment

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said 70 hospitals across England are being upgraded.

They added: “We will be introducing new measures to reduce the impact of heat on healthcare infrastructure in our upcoming National Adaptation Programme.

“This government is investing record sums to upgrade and modernise NHS buildings so staff have the facilities needed to provide world-class care for patients.”

NHS England did not provide a comment.

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