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UK heatwave: how to keep your staff and patients cool

30 July 2018

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The UK has experienced the longest heatwave in 40 years and the Met Office recorded the highest temperature of 35.3°C in Faversham, Kent last Thursday. 
However, since then temperatures dropped to the mid 20s. But don’t be fooled, the heatwave is set to return and temperatures could reach 30°C again this week, according to the Met Office.
Last Wednesday, a GP surgery in Kent was forced to close one of its branches operating out of portakabins for three days after temperatures hit 31 degrees in the practice.
Although the law does not dictate a minimum and a maximum temperature in the workplace, premises should normally be at least 16°C or ‘13°C if much of the work involves rigorous physical effort’, according to the Health and Safety Executive, a body that encourages the implementation of workplace health, safety and welfare.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 states that ‘during working hours, the temperature in all workplaces inside buildings shall be reasonable,’ which varies according to the nature of the workplace.
Here are a few tips to protect your patients and staff when temperatures soar.
Carry out a risk assessment
It is important that you listen to the concerns of your patients and staff concerns during this period of heat and carry out a risk assessment if needed.
Kent LMC deputy clerk Carlo Caruso says that as employers, ‘practices will need to consider the impact of the working environment on the wellbeing of their staff. If they feel that the heat may be putting staff wellbeing at risk, they should consider undertaking a risk assessment and take mitigating action where possible’.
He adds: ‘If practices have to close they should consult their business continuity plans to ensure that, in the case of immediate and necessary treatment, patients can speak to a healthcare professional.’
Keep an eye out for people at greater risk
Certain people might be more at risk of suffering the consequences of a heatwave, although it can affect anyone.
NHS Choices warns that those who are especially at risk are:

  • Older people
  • Babies and young children
  • People with a serious chronic condition
  • People with mobility problems
  • People with serious mental health problems
  • People on certain medications
  • People who misuse alcohol or drugs
  • People who are physically active

Provide assistance
Ensure your staff are aware of how to provide immediate assistance to patients or colleagues who experience dehydration or heat exhaustion.
NHS Choices recommends four steps to cool someone down. You should:

  1. Move them to a cool place.
  2. Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly.
  3. Get them to drink plenty of water. Sports or rehydration drinks are OK.
  4. Cool their skin – spray or sponge them with cool water and fan them. Cold packs around the armpits or neck are good too.

Keep it cool
If your practice does not have air conditioning , you might want to look for alternatives to keep patients and staff cool.

  • Stay hydrated. Make sure both patients and staff have access to fresh water.
  • Feel the breeze. When it is hot, we are tempted to just prop our windows open. Although this is a wise move when it is cooler outside, opening the windows during the hottest hours of the day will only push the temperature up again. You should instead pull down the shades. If possible, get blinds or reflective material, create a cooler environment.
  • Swap rooms. Identify which room in your practice is the coolest – you might need to take patients or staff there if they experience heat exhaustion.
  • Dress down. Keep attire light and fresh. Allow your staff to wear more casual clothes during this period – cotton is a good choice.
  • Cool down. You can mimic air conditioning by placing some ice cubes in a box. Place a fan in front of the box: as the ice melts, it will release some cool air that the fan will blow around.
  • The summer of an ice-cream. Ice cream is never a bad idea. Why not have some available to offer when it gets particularly hot? 

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