Heat-related deaths are set to treble in the coming years as UK summer temperatures approaching 40C become the norm, MPs have warned.
More than 2,000 people died in just 10 days in 2003 when a heatwave pushed temperatures as high as as 38.5C, and the Met Office warns that hot spells of a similar intensity will occur every other year by the 2040s.
Without a Government strategy to protect vulnerable people like the elderly, numbers dying from the heat could rise to 7,000 a year by 2050, a report from the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee said.
Ministers are urged to take action to ensure homes, hospitals, care homes, offices, cities, water supplies and transport networks can cope with rising temperatures.
Wakefield MP Mary Creagh, who chairs the committee, said: “Heatwave warnings are welcomed as barbecue alerts, but they threaten health, wellbeing and productivity.
“The Government must stop playing pass the parcel with local councils and the NHS and develop a strategy to protect our ageing population from this increasing risk.” She said the Government needed to do more to warn the public of the health risks of heatwaves, which can cause premature deaths from cardiac, kidney and respiratory disease and put pressure on health and social services.
Ms creagh added: “It must change building regulations and planning policies to ensure homes and transport networks are able to deal with extreme heat, and that local authorities and cities have green spaces and heat-resilient infrastructure.”
The MPs warned that funding for local authorities to adapt to climate change has been withdrawn and there is a lack of regulation to prevent new homes, hospitals and care homes from overheating.
The committe said the Goverment should consult on introducing maximum workplace temperatures, especially for work that involves significant physical effort, while Public Health England should issue formal guidance to employers to relax dress codes and allow flexible working during heatwaves.
Guidance should also be issued to headteachers on safe temperatures in schools and relaxing school uniform policy during hot weather, the report said.
The report is published as the UK swelters in a prolonged heatwave hitting northern Europe amid warnings that climate change is making such heat extremes more likely.
The temperature is forecast to hit 37C on tomorrow, with the possibility that the UK’s all-time heat record of 38.5C will be broken. Thunderstorm warnings are in place for parts of northern and eastern England and the Midlands, with people warned of flash flooding, lightning strikes, hail or strong winds.
Paul Gundersen, Chief Meteorologist at the Met Office, said: “Whilst many places will remain dry and hot, the thunderstorms on Friday could lead to torrential downpours in places with as much as 30mm of rainfall in an hour and 60mm in 3 hours.
“Large hail and strong, gusty winds are also likely and combined could lead to difficult driving conditions as a result of spray and sudden flooding.”