The Heat Is Online

Climate Impacts could "Overwhelm" British Health Service

Climate change 'could kill thousands'

BBC News, Feb. 9, 2001

Climate changes could cause thousands of deaths every year - but reduce the number of cold-weather deaths, say experts.

As floods once again hit parts of the UK, experts warn the incidence of gales and floods could increase over the next 50 years, when they predict temperatures will rise by up to two degrees centigrade.

Experts even warn that malaria could return to large parts of the UK.

They say the climate change could cause an extra 5,000 deaths from skin cancer every year -- and 2,000 from heatwaves

Heatwaves like that of 1976 can currently be expected once every 350 years -- by 2050 they could happen every five or six years.

Cases of cataracts are also likely to increase by up to 2,000 a year.

The report published on Friday, by the Expert Group on Climate Change on Health, predicts more intense summer heatwaves, and an increased risk of winter floods and severe gales.

It said the risk of severe flooding of coastal areas was likely to increase because of rising sea levels and increased storm surges.

It calls for better ways to predict and assess the risks of such events, and to deal with a severe flood that could leave "perhaps tens of thousands of people temporarily homeless".

It adds that local NHS resources "could be overwhelmed".

And it warns gales and floods will cause injuries from things such as falling trees and drowning, as well as homelessness and exposure to the cold.

'Winners and losers'

One of the report's authors, Tony McMichael, professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, accepted that on balance, the UK could see benefits from climate change.

But he added: "There are going to be a lot of winners and losers and indeed this country may be less adversely affected that many other parts of the world."

Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson told the BBC it was the first time the effects of climate change on health had been examined.

"If the public are going to be exposed to this with hotter summers, then they need to be aware to avoid skin cancer, and elderly people need to be in cool conditions so they don't get severe illnesses."


The report predicts that by 2080, much of the south of the UK would be vulnerable to the milder form of malaria plasmodium vivax for up to four months of the year because of the change in weather conditions.

Mosquitoes will thrive in the higher temperatures, and predicted increases in winter rainfall would provide ideal breeding conditions. Areas with salt-marshes like south-east Kent would be the most vulnerable.

Global climate change could mean popular tourist destinations like Turkey could have a higher incidence of a more serious form of malaria.

But warmer conditions could cut the number of elderly people who die during the winter months by around 20,000 each year.

And the number of hospital patient days per year that are due to the cold could fall from 8.2m in the1990s to 6.1m in the 2050s.

There could also be an extra 10,000 cases of food poisoning each year.

Ozone concentrations are likely to increase, causing several thousand extra deaths and hospital admissions every year.


The report calls for and expanded research programme as "a matter of urgency".

The information on how climate change could affect health is intended to help the government plan for the long-term.

The report concludes that the NHS should cope well with the impact of climate change - if there is adequate planning.

It adds that early preventative action could lessen the health effects of climate changes.

Frances MacGuire, climate policy officer at the pressure group Friends of the Earth, said: "This report shows thousands of British people will die early from skin cancer, in heatwaves and during extreme weather events caused by man-made climate change.

"This will place an added burden on our already over-stretched health service."