South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SECAmb) is urging people to take care to protect themselves against both the short and long-term damage the sun can cause.

Calls to the ambulance service relating to dehydration and heat stroke typically increase in the summer months and higher temperatures can also seriously affect people with long-term health issues such as heart conditions or high blood pressure.

Increased temperatures can also adversely affect older people and the very young. These groups, and those who care for them, are urged to take particular care during the hot weather.

And with May being Melanoma Awareness Month, SECAmb is also urging the public to learn more about how to protect themselves from longer-term complications such as skin cancer.

Melanoma is the fifth most common form of cancer in the UK with approximately 16,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed each year. More than 2,300 people die every year in the UK from melanoma.

One SECAmb employee knows all too well about the risks. Natasha Illingworth, 27, works in the Trust’s Workforce Department and was diagnosed with melanoma just over four years ago after discovering a mole on her back was starting to change and getting darker.

Investigations eventually led to the shocking discovery that she had stage three cancer and would require further tests and invasive surgery.

Thankfully, following regular CT scans and checks, Natasha has been given the all-clear but she is keen to use her second chance to raise awareness and encourage others to look after their skin.

Natasha said: “I know people who didn’t pull through and died as a result. I feel very lucky that I got a second chance.

This second chance has also allowed Natasha to become a mum for the first time to baby Max in the last year.

She added: “I’m just so grateful.  It’s changed how I view life and I’m really keen to do whatever I can to encourage people to regularly check their skin for any changes.  I always check once a month on pay day so maybe use the next pay day to check your skin because you just never know!”

SECAmb Executive Director of Operations, Emma Williams, said: “Natasha’s story is a sobering reminder of the long-term damage the sun can cause and I would urge everyone to be very aware of any changes and not to hesitate in contacting their GP with any concerns.

“We also know that the summer months can be very busy for the ambulance service with periods of hot weather leading to an increase in certain calls. Of course, we want people to enjoy the sun but they should also act sensibly, cover up and use sunscreen. They should also drink plenty of water and keep a close eye on anyone they know or care for who is particularly vulnerable.

“If everyone follows this simple advice it can really help us manage the demand we face through the summer months.”

SECAmb tips for staying safe and cool in the sun

  • Stay in the shade or indoors. The sun is at its most dangerous between 11am and 3pm. Find shade under umbrellas, trees or canopies
  • Use sunscreen and cover up. If you can’t avoid being out in the sun apply a high-factor sunscreen and wear a t-shirt and hat
  • Increase your fluid intake. The normal recommended daily intake of fluid is 2.5 litres or 8 glasses per day. In extreme heat experts recommend you drink more and include a range of different fluids
  • Keep your home cool. Keep windows closed while the room is cooler than it is outside. Open them when the temperature inside rises, and at night for ventilation
  • Look after the elderly. Older people are more prone to the effects of heat. If you have older relatives or neighbours, you can help simply by checking on them and reminding them to drink plenty and often. Also help them to keep their house as cool as possible, using a fan if necessary
  • Protect children. Keep a close eye on young children, who need plenty of fluids. A good way to check if they are drinking enough is that they are passing urine regularly and that it is not too dark. You should check nappies regularly. Babies and the very young must be kept out of the sun
  • Act safely around water and follow lifeguard advice. Avoid excessive physical exertion. If you are taking physical exercise you need to drink half a litre of fluid at least half an hour beforehand and continue to replenish your fluids during and after exercising
  • Be sensible with alcohol. Hot weather speeds up the effects of alcohol so extra care should be taken when drinking. Alcohol will lead to dehydration so make sure that you alternate alcoholic drinks with water or fruit juice
  • Know the perils of outdoor eating. Warm summer weather is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria so it is especially important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold until you are ready to eat them. When barbecuing always make sure you cook meat until it is piping hot, none of it is pink and all juices run clear

Remember, heat stroke can kill. It can develop very suddenly and rapidly lead to unconsciousness. If you suspect someone is suffering from heat stroke call 999 immediately.

While waiting for the ambulance you should listen carefully to the call handler and follow the instructions given to you. The following can also help someone suffering from heat stroke:

  • If possible, move the person somewhere cooler
    • Increase ventilation by opening windows or using a fan
    • Cool the patient down as quickly as possible by loosening their clothes, sprinkling them with cold water or wrapping them in a damp sheet
    • If they are conscious, give them water or fruit juice to drink
    • Do not give them aspirin or paracetamol

When to call 999:

If you think a patient is suffering from one of the following you must dial 999 for an ambulance:

  • heart attack (e.g. chest pain for more than 15 minutes)
    • sudden unexplained shortness of breath
    • heavy bleeding
    • unconsciousness (even if the patient has regained consciousness)
    • traumatic back/spinal/neck pain

You should also call for an ambulance if:

  • you think the patient’s illness or injury is life-threatening
    • you think the illness or injury may become worse, or even life-threatening on the way to the hospital
    • the patient needs the skills or equipment of the ambulance service and its personnel

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