Social care must prepare for the effects of climate change

Climate change will be a fact of life for future generations, but it is also starting to affect us now. While we urgently need to reduce energy consumption we must also design our health and social services to cope with new challenges.

One of these will be dealing with the heat. In summer 2003, between 27,000 and 50,000 people died prematurely in Europe, many in their own homes as a result of unexpectedly high temperatures. The health and social care services of some countries, not least France, were unprepared. But now we know that these extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent we need to be ready.

Those likely to be most affected by the higher temperatures include older people, people taking certain medication (such as diuretics), people with a serious chronic condition (particularly breathing or heart problems) and people with mobility problems, as well as those who are overweight, babies and young children.

Access to drinking water in public places will be increasingly important. We will need to rethink buildings to ensure they can stay cool as well as warm and we should be considering a maximum temperature in the workplace, as well as a minimum. A shade allowance could be as important as the winter heating ­allowance.

There are many knock-on effects of increasing temperatures. Air quality can deteriorate when sunlight and high temperatures react with other pollutants such as nitrous oxide to produce low-level ozone. Those with respiratory problems are likely to find there are more days when they are advised to stay indoors and they could require more care.

There is also concern that diseases unable to thrive in current temperatures will begin to spread, such as those spread by ticks. In the US diseases that were thought to have disappeared are re-emerging. One of those is West Nile virus. Cases of food poisoning also tend to increase in hot weather.

Some countries have reacted by producing more information for people about how to behave in the heat and public services have been put on alert during the summer months.

Indeed, France has launched a national plan for heatwaves which includes taking a census of risk groups in every town and providing emergency equipment where necessary.

Some social services departments in the UK are also preparing action plans and the NHS is publishing advice guides.

While we must act to reduce climate change, we must also prepare for the future. It is essential that the development and delivery of our social care services address the future challenges. Ignoring the potential impacts of climate change for every aspect of our lives would at best be foolish and at worst catastrophic.

Jean Lambert (pictured right) is London’s Green MEP


Reduce your footprint

There are many ways to reduce energy consumption in the home and in our workplaces.

If you work in a care home, for instance, why not contact The Carbon Trust to find out how you can reduce your carbon footprint. They have lots of helpful advice and tips from choosing a green energy supplier to investing in low-energy appliances.

Reducing your impact on the environment could also save you money.

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