There are few things better than a great British summer, but with climate change and an ageing population the need to manage the risks from heatstroke, and death, to Service Users are perhaps greater than they have ever been. Of note, there was an estimated 2,803 excess deaths due to the heat in 2022 in the UK.
There are a few things registered managers and care staff need to understand about managing the risk from heat to older and other at-risk groups as well as needing to know the signs and symptoms of heatstroke and how to manage it.
What is a heat wave?
For a period to be declared a heatwave in the UK the temperature has to be 25oC for two days or more. Heatwaves don’t just affect the daytime; the night-time temperatures also stay warm affecting the quality of sleep and affecting hydration.
Who is at risk?
According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), https://www.gov.uk/health-and-social-care, the people most vulnerable to being impacted by a heatwave are:
• The over 65s’.
• Babies and Young Children.
• People who are socially isolated.
• People living with medical conditions like cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
• Individuals taking some medications which affect the heart, kidneys or the ability to sweat.
• People living with cognitive impairment like dementia.
• People who have restricted mobility.
How to reduce the risks from the heatwave
Social care providers can take a number of steps to help Service Users stay safe in the heat, these include:
• Sign up to the Heat-health Alert service.
• Ensure staff are alert to the risks of heat on at-risk groups.
• Help keep home environments cool by:
• Closing curtains and blinds to sunlight.
• Open windows later in the day / early morning when it is cool.
• Ensure electrical items are turned off and not producing heat.
• Move Service Users to cooler parts of the home.
Service Users can be helped to stay cool by:
• Having cool baths or showers.
• Splashing or spraying cool water.
• Ensure Service Users have access to plenty of fluids even when carers are not there.
• Having cold drinks like water and squash.
• Avoiding hot drinks and drinks containing caffeine and lots of sugar.
• Eating smaller meals including salads.
• Wearing light clothing, e.g. cotton and linen.
• Using an electric fan when the air temperature is below 35oC – take care not to direct the fan at the Service User as this can lead to dehydration.
Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heatstroke
If staff recognise and treat heat exhaustion quickly, they can prevent it becoming a medical emergency. Heat exhaustion is characterised by:
• Extreme thirst.
• Feeling sick or vomiting.
• Heavy sweating.
• Muscle cramps.
Left untreated, or treated too late, heat exhaustion can become heat stroke, the signs and symptoms of which include:
• Being uncoordinated.
• Confusion (which is new for the Service User).
• Low blood pressure.
• Rapid breathing.
• Rapid heartbeat.
• Shortness of breath.
Some people have seizures and some may stop sweating when they develop heatstroke.
Managing heat exhaustion and heatstroke
Heatstroke is a medical emergency and care staff should call for an ambulance on 999 and treat as per the guidance for heat exhaustion.
Heat exhaustion can be treated by:
• Moving the person to somewhere cooler, like a shadier room.
• Reducing what they are wearing to the minimum needed to preserve their dignity.
• Giving them an isotonic drink, like a sports or rehydration drink.
• Cooling them with sprayed water or a freezer pack wrapped in a tea towel and placed under their armpits or on their neck.
If they recover quickly, there may be no need to call an ambulance, but staff should inform the Service User’s GP.
Making sure staff are aware of the dangers of heat for at risk Service Users is important. Ensuring staff know how to make a home cool and keep Service Users hydrated and comfortable in the heat can potentially be lifesaving.
Bettal Quality Consultancy has policies, procedures and risk assessments, including extremes of weather, to support registered managers and their teams maintain CQC compliant records of their care.
If you would like to know more, browse our website, https://www.bettal.co.uk, or get in touch:
Telephone: 01697 741 411
Peter Ellis MA MSc BSc(Hons) RN
Bettal Quality Consultancy