Berlin’s health senator Ulrike Gote (Greens) had no trouble making the urgency of her appearance clear on a cool and rainy Monday. The topic couldn’t be more present, said Gote when presenting the heat protection plans for Berlin’s health care system.
One day after the first heat wave of the summer hit Berlin at the weekend with well over 30 degrees Celsius, Gote, together with the Berlin Medical Association and the German Alliance on Climate Change and Health, presented measures on Monday that would enable healthcare facilities to better adapt to the consequences of long-term to prepare for extreme temperatures.
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To this end, the alliance has drawn up so-called model heat protection plans, which are to be made known in the facilities in the coming days and weeks.
“The climate crisis is a reality in Germany and it is a reality in Berlin,” Gote said, not only in view of the recent heat wave. The increasing periods of heat would represent “a major health burden on many levels”. In the years 2018 to 2020, more than 750 people died in Berlin as a result of extreme heat, Gote said.
According to Peter Bobbert, President of the Berlin Medical Association, these are still conservative calculations. Accurate data has been difficult to collect due to the multiple health effects of heat. What can be observed is that heat-related deaths are increasing. “If we continue as we have been, we will be in for a health catastrophe,” said Bobbert.
“Heat waves are life-threatening for the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, and especially for those who live alone. We, as a society, need to protect vulnerable groups from this danger,” Bobbert said.
The core of the concept presented on Monday is a central warning system that, according to Gote, is to be introduced in the coming days. Based on the official heat warnings of the German weather service, all relevant multipliers and all facilities in health facilities are to be alerted via the police operations control and situation center in the event of extreme temperatures.
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This includes inpatient and outpatient health care, the public health service, civil protection including the fire brigade, and nursing services and facilities. Based on these warnings, stakeholders are encouraged to take specific measures to mitigate the health consequences of heat.
These measures were recorded in model heat protection plans drawn up by the alliance for the individual sectors. The model plan for hospitals, for example, provides for warning level 1 of the German Weather Service (perceived temperature over 32 degrees Celsius on at least two consecutive days) to keep an eye on endangered patients, sufficient drinks for employees, patients and visitors : Provide indoors and keep windows and blinds closed during the day.
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At warning level 2 (perceived temperature above 38 degrees Celsius), patients should, among other things, be actively provided with the required amount of liquid and people at risk should be moved to cooler rooms.
Some of the individual measures may seem banal, said Bobbert, but it is important to record them in concrete terms and thus sensitize everyone involved to the dangers of heat.
In addition to the recommendations for acute heat, the model heat protection plans also provide for preparatory measures, such as the training of responsible personnel and the recording of particularly hot and cold rooms in the respective facility. In the long term, when constructing or converting buildings, attention should be paid to adequate heat protection, for example with insulation or green roofs and facades.
In its “Climate Effects and Risk Analysis 2021”, the Federal Environment Agency describes heat as “by far the most important climatic influence” on human health. Heat waves have occurred much more frequently in Germany in recent years than in previous decades. Meteorologists assume that this development will intensify in the coming years due to climate change.
In cities in particular, temperatures rise particularly sharply during heat waves due to the extensive sealing and dense development.
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Nevertheless, until a few years ago, the topic of heat played almost no role in the health sector, said Martin Herrmann, CEO of the German Alliance for Climate Change and Health. Things have improved somewhat recently, with some municipalities in Germany having drawn up so-called heat action plans.
“But we’re not very far in the implementation,” said Herrmann. The health professions in particular have so far been excluded. In Berlin, it has now been possible for the first time to conceptually integrate this into heat prevention.
This was preceded by a decision by the Conference of Health Ministers in 2020. At that time, the state ministers called for heat action plans to be drawn up within the next five years “in order to minimize health risks for the population”. A pilot project was then started in Berlin, the result of which is the sample heat protection plans presented yesterday.
The extent to which this theory becomes practice, however, depends very much on the institutions themselves. Funding for the measures could not be raised from her house, said Health Senator Gote. And a mandatory implementation of the measures – for example in comparison to the hygiene protection concept – is not planned.
The aim is to use “communication and interaction to ensure that it doesn’t just remain theory,” said Bobbert. After the summer you will evaluate what went well and what went badly. The Helmholtz Center for Health and Environment in Munich will accompany the measures scientifically, said Herrmann.
“The scientific foundation is very important.” He also relies on an international exchange with countries in which heat protection already plays a major role. Nevertheless, the implementation is decisive in the end: “The plans alone will not save people,” said Herrmann.