Heat-related deaths in the UK could triple in the next 30 years, to around 7,000 annually, according to a report.
The British Red Cross warns there is a dangerous perception gap in the UK when it comes to awareness of the risks posed by heat.
The charity has published a report called Feeling The Heat, which looks at how prepared the UK is for rising temperatures and how aware people are of the risks of heatwaves.
The report comes after a period of hot weather in the UK that prompted unprecedented extreme heat warnings. It says heatwaves and spells of hot weather have increased in the UK and will continue to do so, in intensity and length.
“The average length of warm spells have more than doubled in length in the last few decades, and by 2050 the UK will be 50% more likely to experience hot summers, while heat-related deaths could more than triple, to around 7,000 per year,” the report said.
The charity’s research found that the risks heatwaves can cause are not matched by the level of public concern.
The public can be seen to have a positive perception of the word heatwave, seen as bringing good weather, with a survey suggesting that more than a quarter (26%) of people see heatwaves as a good thing.
The poll suggested more than a third (37%) believe heatwaves will be a problem in the future, but not now.
The report said the August 2020 heatwaves caused a record 2,556 excess deaths in England as well as significant disruption across the UK.
A severe water shortage led to more than 300 households in West Sussex having no water for five days, and there were an estimated five million staff days lost, at a cost of approximately £770 million to the UK economy.
Despite being a high-risk group, more than half (57%) of those aged 75 and over said they do not consider themselves as vulnerable to the impact of heatwaves, the research found.
The survey involved 2,000 UK adults in June 2021.
Its results suggest that the majority (60%) of UK adults have experienced at least one adverse effect of hot weather in the UK, most commonly headaches (33%), dizziness or feeling faint (22%), or heat rash (21%).
The poll found that 40% of adults have never seen information on how to protect themselves during a heatwave, and 9% said they have never had advanced warning that a UK heatwave is expected.
Former TV weather presenter Sian Lloyd has joined the British Red Cross in calling for greater awareness and understanding of the risks associated with rising temperatures.
She said: “The UK is getting hotter. As a result of climate change, heatwaves are becoming longer and more extreme, and many people’s health and wellbeing will continue to suffer as a result.
“We already know that certain groups are more at risk from extreme heat, including people aged over 75, adults with underlying health conditions, children and babies, as well as people living in top floor flats and in built-up urban areas where temperatures are higher.”
Matthew Killick, director of crisis response and community resilience at British Red Cross, said: “Despite what many think, UK heatwaves can impact us all.
“Every year people struggle with their health and wellbeing as a result, health and care services see an increase in demand, transport is interrupted, employers experience reduced productivity, and they can even be life threatening.
“But heatwaves don’t need to be deadly. From checking on your neighbours to providing first aid, simple early actions can keep you, your family and friends safe and well during hot weather.
“We are calling on all UK governments to ensure people most vulnerable to heat risk are able to access the targeted information, advice and support they need to take action and stay safe and healthy.”