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Extreme heat puts pressure on transport, NHS and health as UK temperatures soar

People enjoy the hot weather at Jesus Green Lido in Cambridge. Photo by Jacob King/PA

By Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent

The UK is facing travel disruption, closed schools and health warnings as the country braces for extreme heat over the next two days.

Temperatures are set to soar into the high 30s in some areas on Monday, while Tuesday is predicted to be even hotter, with temperatures possibly reaching 40C (104F).

That would be a new record for the UK, beating the 38.7C (101.7F) seen in Cambridge in 2019.

The rise in temperatures has forced the UK Health Security Agency to issue a level 4 heat-health alert – described as an “emergency” – while the Met Office has issued the UK’s first red extreme heat warning for a large part of England, with both covering Monday and Tuesday.

Reduced railway services and slower running times of trains have been put in place amid fears of rails buckling in the heat, with customers being advised to only travel if necessary on Monday and Tuesday.

In London there were also reduced services on the Tube and calls for people to only travel if necessary.

Network Rail will close the East Coast Main Line between noon and 8pm on Tuesday for all locations between London King’s Cross and York and Leeds, with passengers warned not to travel.

Some schools in several counties, including Nottinghamshire and Hampshire, are closed.

Additional contingency support is in place for ambulance services, such as more call handlers and extra working hours, but health bosses warned the NHS will be hard pushed in the face of the extreme heat.

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The heat is really putting pressure on the NHS estate, much of which is quite dilapidated.”

She said some operating theatres are having to suspend work because they cannot be kept at required temperatures, while there are also problems with IT servers.

“NHS leaders are absolutely expecting the days ahead to be quite pressured but, as ever, the NHS will pull out all the stops,” she said.

Deputy chief medical officer Thomas Waite said most healthy people will not run into difficulty during the heatwave, as long as they are taking precautions, such as staying hydrated and keeping cool.

Cabinet minister Kit Malthouse urged people to look out for the most vulnerable, particularly small children and the elderly.

He said schools should stay open, and suggested that people who are not working could go to the beach, if they are sensible, as it could be cooler at the coast.

He told Sky News: “But what we are saying to people is that they need to take responsibility for themselves, recognise that this is a really ferocious heat that we haven’t seen in this country before, and adapt their behaviour accordingly.”

Claudia Di Napoli, a heatwaves researcher at the University of Reading, said heat poses multiple dangers, including dehydration, overheating, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

“These must not be under-estimated as their consequences can be fatal,” she warned.

She said infants, the elderly, homeless, outdoor workers and those with pre-existing medical conditions are more vulnerable, but heat early warning systems could help prevent deaths.

Britons are being urged to stay inside during the hottest period of the day, between 11am and 4pm, and wear sun cream, a hat, stay in the shade and keep hydrated with water, and there are warnings about swimming in lakes, rivers and reservoirs.

Officers searching for a missing 13-year-old who got into trouble in a river near Ovingham, Northumberland, have found a body, Northumbria Police said.

And the body of a 50-year-old man was recovered from Ardsley Reservoir, between Leeds and Wakefield, on Sunday.

There are also warnings of wildfires, zoos and wildlife parks are closed, and water companies are urging people to use water wisely amid high demand.

Scientists at the Met Office have predicted that temperatures could reach 40C as a result of climate change, warning that that figure “could be as much as 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence”.

Climate change, which has pushed average global temperatures up by around 1.2C and has caused drier soils, is making heatwaves longer, more intense and more likely.

Experts have warned of the need to adapt homes, cities and infrastructure in the UK for a future of more intense and deadly summer heat.

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