The new Health Secretary has said that extra measures are being put in place for ambulance services as an extreme heat warning comes into force.
Steve Barclay said that additional contingency support, such as more call handlers and extra working hours, are being put in place tomorrow (Monday 18 July) and on Tuesday.
Meteorologists have given an 80 per cent chance of the mercury topping Britain’s record temperature of 38.7C, set in Cambridge in 2019 – with the current heatwave set to peak on Tuesday.
Scorching temperatures are predicted for tomorrow, with Peterborough expected to hit 37C and Milton Keynes, Norwich and Lincoln forecast to hit 36C – while temperatures could hit 40C in London on Tuesday.
The UK’s first red extreme heat warning has been issued across a large part of England from London to Manchester and York for tomorrow and Tuesday, while an amber warning initially covers all of England today, tomorrow and Tuesday.
The UK Health Security Agency has increased its heat health warning from level three to level four, which is described as a “national emergency”.
Mr Barclay told the BBC: “The clear message to the public is to take the sensible steps in terms of water, shade and cover, that many people are aware of. That’s the best way of mitigating against the heat.
“We’re asking people to keep an eye out for their neighbours and those who may be vulnerable.
“We’re also putting in additional contingency support as well.”
He added: “We’re putting in extra measures in terms of call handlers, support for fleet (and) extra hours of capacity within the ambulances.
“Each ambulance trust has well-developed contingency plans for extreme weather.
“We’re also working with the hospitals to get the handovers from ambulances into hospitals, but also to ensure that where people can be moved on to the wards themselves, we’re using the full capability of the hospital rather than people waiting longer than they need to in ambulances outside.”
Ministers held a virtual emergency Cobra meeting yesterday (Saturday 16 July) after meteorologists warned that the record high temperatures could put lives at risk.
Cabinet Office Minister Kit Malthouse, who chaired the meeting, said that transport services could face “significant disruption” tomorrow and Tuesday and urged people not to travel.
He added that schools were being issued with guidance to enable them to remain open.
Met Office climate attribution scientist Nikos Christidis has said that the 40C prediction is a result of climate change.
Dr Christidis said: “We hoped we wouldn’t get to this situation but for the first time ever we are forecasting greater than 40C in the UK.
“In a recent study we found that the likelihood of extremely hot days in the UK has been increasing and will continue to do so during the course of the century, with the most extreme temperatures expected to be observed in the south east of England.”
The Met Office has meanwhile forecast a hot dry day today across the south east, with temperatures up to 31C. Conditions are expected to be similar in Wales, the Midlands and the south west of England.