Almost 1,700 extra people died during the heatwave two weeks ago that saw temperatures top 40C in Britain for the first time in recorded history.
Records were broken last month after a new record high temperature of 40.3C was recorded in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, on July 19.
Large parts of England and Wales were placed under the nation’s first ever “red” extreme heat alert warning of the potential for serious illness and danger to life.
The record was broken three times in a few hours with 39.1C measured in Charlwood, Surrey and 40.2C at Heathrow Airport.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics on Tuesday show there were 1,680 more deaths in the week ending July 22 – an increase of 18.1% compared to the previous five years.
However, experts have warned that the figures should not be considered a definitive account of how many people died as a direct consequence of the heat.
Sarah Caul, head of mortality analysis at the ONS, warned the figures “do not tell the whole story”.
“There are always individual days where the number of deaths exceeds the five-year average for that day, and some of these coincide with dates when parts of the country experienced extreme temperatures, whether cold or hot,” she said.
“In 2019, for example, the recorded temperature in Cambridge was 38.3 Celsius on July 25. Looking at the deaths in England and Wales at that time, we reported an increase in deaths on that day and shortly after. This was followed of a subsequent fall in the number of deaths, which tends to occur after a period of excess mortality.
“Among the most common causes of death, including in the summer months, are conditions such as respiratory failure, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. It is likely that some of these deaths were precipitated by circumstances related to extreme heat, but the death certificate would not necessarily describe the death as ‘heat-related’ unless the person which confirms the death specifically mentions the name.”
At least 10 people – including a 13-year-old boy – drowned after running into water problems across the country.
But even this, says Caul, is not necessarily an indication that they died because of the heat wave.
For example, if a death report lists the cause of death as ‘drowning’, we are unlikely to know that the deceased was swimming because of the extreme heat,” she warned.
“It is difficult to attribute the individual death to the heat wave.”
The heat also put pressure on the fire service, which battled grass fires and buildings that burned throughout the heat.
A total of 16 homes were lost on July 19 in the huge fire in Wennington, east London, and firefighters had to fight to save the nearby fire station itself from the flames.