'Our staff are prepared' - Health services in the south braced as Level 3 Heat-Health alert issued

A sign indicating a hospital has an A&E department. Credit: PA

Hospitals across the south east are bracing for an influx of heat related ailments as temperatures continue to rise.

A level 3 Heat-Health alert has been issued for the region, which requires social and healthcare services to target specific actions at high-risk groups.

The warm flow of weather is coming from Spain and Portugal, where daytime temperatures have exceeded 40C in southern Spain.

Temperatures could rise as high as the mid 30s on Friday, putting people at risk of heatstroke and sunburn.

South Central Ambulance Service, which covers parts of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and the South Coast, has admitted it is already under pressure.

It is urging people to only call 999 in an emergency, stressing its 'efforts' will be focused on the most seriously ill and injured.

In a series of tweets it said: "Our 999 service is currently extremely busy.

"As usual we are focusing our efforts on our most seriously ill and injured patients. This means that there may be delays in responding to less urgent calls.

"In order to help our teams on the road and in our control rooms, please only call us back after the first 999 call if the patient's condition has changed or if you wish to cancel the ambulance call out.

"Only call 999 for serious or life-threatening emergencies such as loss of consciousness, severe bleeding, breathing difficulties, persistent and severe chest pain, symptoms of heart attack or stroke."

The service added that patients should make use of alternative services such as urgent treatment centres.

What other services can you use?

Urgent Treatment Centres

Urgent treatment centres (UTCs) are GP-led, open at least 12 hours a day, every day, offer appointments that can be booked through 111 or through a GP referral, and are equipped to diagnose and deal with many of the most common ailments people attend A&E for.

UTCs will also ease the pressure on hospitals, leaving other parts of the system free to treat the most serious cases. The UTC offer will result in decreased attendance at A&E, or, in co-located services offer the opportunity for streaming at the front door. All UTC services will be considered a Type 3 A&E.

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GP Practice

A General Practitioner (GP) is your family doctor and is the main point of contact for general healthcare for NHS patients. All UK residents are entitled to the services of an NHS GP.

GPs are highly skilled doctors who support patients throughout their lives. They help you to manage your health and prevent illness and are trained in all aspects of general medicine. This includes child health, mental health, adult medicine, the diagnosis and management of acute medical and surgical problems and the management of long term health conditions.

GPs assess, diagnose, treat and manage illness. They carry out screening for some cancers and promote general health and wellbeing. GPs act as a patient’s advocate, supporting and representing a patient’s best interests to ensure they receive the best and most appropriate health and/or social care.

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As qualified healthcare professionals, they can offer clinical advice and over-the-counter medicines for a range of minor illnesses, such as coughs, colds, sore throats, tummy trouble and aches and pains.

If symptoms suggest it's something more serious, pharmacists have the right training to make sure you get the help you need. For example they will tell you if you need to see a GP, nurse or other healthcare professional.

All pharmacists train for 5 years in the use of medicines. They are also trained in managing minor illnesses and providing health and wellbeing advice.

Many pharmacies are open until late and at weekends. You do not need an appointment.

Most pharmacies have a private consultation room where you can discuss issues with pharmacy staff without being overheard.

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Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (HHFT), which runs sites in Basingstoke, Andover and Winchester, says it is expecting a 'rise' in heat related admissions.

Louise Fox, Associate Director of Nursing at the Trust, told ITV Meridian that "plans are in place" for the rise in temperatures.

"We have a plan in place, as we do for any untoward or inclement weather situations, so our staff are prepared.

"We have already taken action to keep staff and patients safe."

Watch: Louise Fox, Associate Director of Nursing at HHFT.

The NHS says people over the age of 75 and those with a serious or long term illness conditions are most vulnerable when there is a heatwave.

It says people should:

  • Stay cool indoors – many of us will need to stay safe at home this summer so know how to keep your home cool

  • Close curtains on rooms that face the sun to keep indoor spaces cooler and remember it may be cooler outdoors than indoors

  • If going outdoors, use cool spaces considerately, keep your distance in line with social distancing guidelines

  • Drink plenty of fluids and avoid excess alcohol

  • Try to keep out of the sun between 11am to 3pm

  • Read more.

NHS chiefs stress however that people should still ask for help if they feel unwell.

Though hospitals may be busy, patients should still contact their GP or NHS 111 for advice. They will then be directed on which service to use if they require medical treatment.

Louise added: "The best thing to do is to use the services that are available [to you].

"Your local pharmacy, 111, they will be able to give help and advice as well as your GP.

"However if it is serious enough, of course, come to your local Emergency Department."

Met Office spokesman Grahame Madge said: “We have got high pressure at the moment so we are getting a certain amount of natural home-grown heat building up because obviously we have got clear skies and fairly dry ground conditions across southern England.

“We have also got warmer air being brought up from further south in Europe where there has been a major heat incident, particularly in Iberia, so that’s leading to the sort of crescendo we will see on Friday.

“Because of the direction of the flow, with the weather pattern we have got set up in our latitude, that is encouraging this warm flow of air to come further north.

“We have got the heat building day by day. The next couple of days will be hotter than the preceding day. We think at the moment, although there is some uncertainty, that the weather temperatures will peak on Friday and then largely we will be in for a cooler day on Saturday.

“Heat may remain potentially into Saturday but for most parts of the UK, because we have got a cold front moving down from further north, we will see temperatures coming back down – but they may just hang on in southern England.”