Rise in ambulance call-outs due to hot weather

Portstewart beach packed to capacity during the good weather.
Portstewart beach packed to capacity during the good weather.

There has been an upswing in weather-related ambulance calls over the past fortnight.

Between July 8 and this Monday, there were 19 call-outs logged under the category of “heat or cold exposure”, largely listed as “heat exposure”, “heat stroke” and “sun stroke”, the Ambulance Service said.

In the same period last year, there were only five call-outs — mostly to do with cold.

The service gets hundreds of calls a day, and a spokesman said if someone had dropped down due to heat, it may be listed as a collapse rather than a temperature-specific case.

One study in Great Britain estimated from July 6 to 14 there had been 650 premature heatwave deaths in England. The academic behind it, Dr Ben Armstrong from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the News Letter that research did not cover all the UK and it was “a bit of a leap” to calculate the number of Ulster deaths by comparison. A past study suggests three-quarters of extra deaths are among those aged 75+, he added.

Consultant geriatrician Dr Jan Ritchie, who has been working at acute medical admissions at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital, said “everyone knows about heat stroke and heat exhaustion” but more common in older people were kidney failure and dehydration.

“When it’s very hot, your blood vessels have to open up and that puts extra strain on your heart, and that’s why older people are particularly at risk,” Dr Ritchie said.

Her three top heat tips for the elderly are: keep up fluid intake with cool drinks (not just tea), stay indoors in a cool area, and for neighbours and friends to look out for them.

She said that those on diuretic medication could seek GP advice, since high heat could particularly affect them.

“I’ve seen several folk with dehydration and kidney failure just today [Monday],” she said, but added that there was no major influx.

“Our numbers to me seem standard for this time of year, but just what people are coming in with is slightly different. It’s the kidney failures, people falling because they’re dizzy, folks who are lethargic; we have had some from nursing homes who are dehydrated.”

Looking at the other end of the age spectrum, Dr Brigitte Bartholome, consultant in the Royal’s paediatric emergency department, said: “You just have to go through the streets of Belfast to see that a number of children have sunburn. We’ve had a number of bad ones, with blisters on their skin.” One infant had been in a pram, but with no sun cream on their legs.

She advised frequent application of factor 50 sun cream; cover up skin; and avoid really hot parts of the day.