Nearly 1,700 additional people died during the heat wave two weeks ago, which saw temperatures hit 40°C in the UK for the first time in recorded history.
The records were broken last month after a new record temperature of 40.3°C was recorded in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, on 19 July.
Much of England and Wales has been placed under the country’s first “red” extreme heat alert, with warnings about the potential for serious illness and life threatening.
The record was broken three times in just a few hours with 39.1°C measured at Charlwood, Surrey and 40.2°C at Heathrow Airport.
Figures released by the Office of National Statistics on Tuesday reveal that there were 1,680 excess deaths in the week ending July 22 – an 18.1% increase from the previous five years.
Experts, however, cautioned that the numbers should not be considered a definitive account of how many people died as a direct consequence of the heat.
Sarah Caul, ONS’s head of mortality analysis, warned that the numbers “don’t tell the whole story”.
“There are always individual days where the death toll exceeds the five-year average for that day and some of those coincide with dates when parts of the country were experiencing extreme temperatures, whether cold or hot,” she said.
“In 2019, for example, the recorded temperature in Cambridge was 38.3 degrees Celsius on 25 July. Looking at deaths in England and Wales at that time, we reported an increase in deaths that day and shortly thereafter. number of deaths, which tends to happen 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 are accelerated by circumstances associated with extreme heat, but the death certificate does not necessarily describe the death as “heat-related” unless the person certifying the death specifically mentions heat”.
At least 10 people – including a 13-year-old boy – have drowned after getting into trouble in the water across the country.
But even that, says Caul, is not necessarily indicative that they died from the heat wave.
If, for example, a death record gives the cause of death as “drowning”, we are unlikely to know that the deceased went swimming because of the extreme heat.”
“It’s difficult to attribute this individual death to the heat wave.”
The heat also put pressure on firefighters, who battled blazes and burning buildings during the heat.
A total of 16 houses were lost on 19 July in the massive fire in Wennington, east London, and firefighters had to scramble to save their own fire station, located nearby, from the flames.