Number of overheating incidents in Sheffield's hospitals revealed as country prepares for red alert heatwave
and live on Freeview channel 276
Data from NHS Digital shows that between 2016 and 2021, Sheffield’s hospitals recorded a total of 219 overheating incidents, as temperatures on wards soared, prompting concerns about the safety of vulnerable patients.
NHS trusts report overheating incidents when the daily maximum temperature exceeds 26˚C in each occupied ward or clinical area. Figures show half, or 50 per cent, recorded at least one incident in the past year.
The latest figures for 2020/21 published by NHS Digital show more than 4,100 overheating incidents were recorded across 104 NHS Trusts – the second highest since current records began.
The analysis comes as a red ‘warning to life’ alert has been issued in South Yorkshire, with forecasts showing temperatures could hit a record-breaking 37˚C in Sheffield next week. The heatwave, which is expected to last between July 17 and 19, marks the first time the Met Office has ever issued a red weather alert in the UK, with some parts of the country expected to bake in temperatures of up to 40˚C.
164 overheating incidents reported over five years
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (STH) is one of the country’s busiest health trusts, presiding over five hospitals, namely Northern General Hospital; Royal Hallamshire Hospital; Charles Clifford Dental Hospital; Weston Park Cancer Hospital and Jessop Wing Maternity Hospital
Figures show how STH recorded the highest number of overheating incidents in Sheffield between 2016 and 2021, with a total of 164 reported.
44 were recorded in 2016/17, with the number increasing to 51 in 2017/18 and peaking in 2018/19 with 65, before plummeting to 3 in 2019/20 and dropping even further to zero in 2020/21.
Chris Norman, Estates Director, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The safety of our patients and staff is our top priority and our building management system controls ventilation and air conditioning to meet heating and cooling demands throughout the year.
"Where needed additional portable air conditioning units are provided in the summer months and in recent years we have invested in permanent air conditioning units to provide additional cooling capacity during hot weather. All new ward refurbishments are designed to meet the latest ventilation standards.
“When hot weather is expected we also take measures such as providing extra water for patients and staff in inpatient and outpatient areas. The published figures for heating incidents are not a good indicator in terms of performance against other Trusts because our figure is for five hospitals rather than just one as in the case of the majority of other Trusts.”
‘This prolonged period of extreme temperatures is a significant challenge for colleagues’
Sheffield Children's NHS Foundation Trust (SC) is a specialist NHS trust the Sheffield Children’s Hospital, and in other hospitals in South Yorkshire and beyond, including Barnsley District Hospital; Bassetlaw Hospital; Doncaster Royal Infirmary; Rotherham General Hospital and Thornbury Hospital in Fulwood.
SC recorded a total of seven incidents between 2016 and 2021, with two reported in 2016/17 and another two reported in 2017/18. Three overheating incidents were reported in 2019/20, while zero incidents were reported in 2018/19 and 2020/21.
Peter Knowles, Estates Director at Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The safety of our everyone on our sites is of paramount importance. Throughout the year we take steps to combat the change in temperatures across our sites, so patients, families and colleagues can be there comfortably and safely.
“We have a number of sites which are part of Sheffield Children’s – from the hospital to community centres – and all present different challenges in this hot weather. We have a number of measures in place during warmer weather to try to keep everyone cool, including air conditioning, fans, window blinds and fresh air ventilation. The estates department works hard to deal with reported problems whilst we ensure that all our critical equipment is operating.”
“This prolonged period of such extreme temperatures is a significant challenge for our colleagues. We thank our patients and families for their continued support and appreciation of the situation.”
‘We take every step possible to ensure our sites and equipment stay at appropriate temperatures’
There is only a 2020/21 set of data for new health trust, Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust (SHSC), with a total number of 29 recorded for that period.
SHSC has a number of hospitals including Forest Close; Grenoside Grange and The Longley Centre as well as clinics such as Argyll House and Hanover Medical Centre.
A spokesperson for Sheffield Health and Social and Care NHS Foundation Trust said, “We take every step possible to ensure our sites and equipment stay at appropriate temperatures. However, sometimes it does get hot. Whenever this happens, we quickly carry out a risk assessment and take appropriate action to protect our service users and staff.”
‘Huge maintenance backlog and under investment in NHS facilities’
Nigel Edwards, chief executive at health think-tank Nuffield Trust, said extreme temperatures are putting patients and staff under “significant stress”.
“Most NHS buildings do not have air conditioning, which reflects the huge maintenance backlog and years of under investment in NHS facilities and infrastructure,” he said.
"When infrastructure fails, patients are also affected badly, with operations cancelled and care disrupted. This is both distressing and challenging with such a huge backlog of care facing the NHS.”
Mr Edwards added new standards on maximum working temperatures need to be developed.
‘Still time to act by investing in energy efficiency and renewable power'
Because of climate change, extreme weather conditions such as heat waves will become more common in the UK.
Charity Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs said these severe weather events will put children, older people and those with existing health conditions at the most risk, but stressed that there is still time to act by investing in energy efficiency and renewable power.