16 November 2023

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There’s no denying it’s getting hotter.

The current climate drivers, long-range forecast and recent conditions indicate an increased risk of heatwaves and bushfires this year.

For the 2023–24 season, the Bureau of Meteorology is expecting the following conditions:

  • Heatwave – the forecast shows a high chance of unusually warm temperatures for most of Australia until at least February 2024.
  • November to January rainfall is likely to be below average across much of western, southern and north-eastern Australia.
  • November to January maximum and minimum temperatures are very likely to be above average for most of Australia.
  • November to January maximum and minimum temperatures are at least 2.5 times more likely than normal to be unusually high for most of Australia.

Senior meteorologist Sarah Scully said Australians should prepare for dry and warm conditions with an increased risk of heatwaves and bushfire weather this spring and summer.

“Daytime and night-time temperatures have an increased chance of being unusually warm until February. Warm nights after hot days means little relief from heat and can lead to heat stress,” Ms Scully said.

SWSPHN Chief Executive Officer, Dr Keith McDonald PhD, attended the GWS Future Health Forum 2023 in October in Parramatta, presented by the Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue.

Dr McDonald said one of the topics was of particular interest and concern to communities in South Western Sydney: Heat as a Health Threat in Greater Western Sydney. 

“Discussion was around heat as one of Greater Western Sydney’s lesser-known killers. Panellists agreed it’s an issue that has compounding effects on the community and is becoming more serious over time,” Dr McDonald said.

On the back of the health forum was the release of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report Let’s talk about the weather: injuries related to extreme weather.

According to the report, extreme heat in Australia accounted for 7,104 injury hospitalisations and 293 deaths in the 10-year period analysed (2012-2022). Apart from Tasmania, exposure to excessive natural heat was the most common cause leading to injury hospitalisation in all states and territories. 

The extreme weather report supports findings in the Climate, Health and Wellbeing in Western Parkland City (2023), a guidance document for the Western Sydney Health Alliance as part of the Increasing Resilience to Climate Change Project.

It is estimated there are three times as many heat-related deaths in Western Sydney during heatwaves than in Sydney’s east.

The Western Parkland City, which includes Camden, Campbelltown, Fairfield, Liverpool and Wollondilly shire, is being impacted by rising temperatures, with the number of days per year over 35C degrees in Western Sydney increasing from an average of 9.5 days in the 1970s to 15.4 days per year in the last decade. This is projected to increase to 12 days over 40C per year by 2090.

Dr McDonald said understanding the impact of excessive heat on the body and following some simple measures could decrease the risks of heatstroke and heat stress.

 

Understanding hot weather risks

What is a heatwave?

Heatwaves are times of extreme heat, when the minimum and maximum temperatures are hotter than usual for three or more consecutive days.

Overheating

When the weather is very hot, your body must work harder to produce more sweat to keep cool.

In some conditions, sweating is not enough and your body temperature can rise rapidly. This is more likely to happen when it is humid or when you are dehydrated and can’t produce enough sweat.

It is important your body temperature stays between 36.1 to 37.8˚C. If your body rises above this, you may develop signs of heat-related illness.

Heat-related illness occurs when the body absorbs too much heat. This may happen slowly over a day or two of extremely hot weather.

Act quickly to avoid serious—or even fatal—effects of fully developed heatstroke.

Signs of heatstroke

  • Rapid pulse or weak pulse
  • Fast, shallow breathing
  • Dry, swollen tongue
  • Trouble speaking
  • Slurred speech
  • Problems concentrating or coordinating movements
  • Aggressive or strange behaviour
  • Dizziness, confusion, seizures or loss of consciousness
  • Sudden rise in body temperature
  • Hot, dry and possibly red skin, possibly with no sweat
  • Headache, nausea or vomiting
  • Intense thirst

Signs of heat stress

  • Rising body temperature
  • Dry mouth and eyes
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Absence of tears when crying (children)

Who is at risk?

While most people find extremely hot weather and heatwaves uncomfortable, some people have a higher risk than others of becoming ill. These include:

  • Adults aged over 75 years, babies and young children
  • People with long-term health conditions, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes
  • People living with overweight or obesity
  • People taking certain medicines
  • People who are socially isolated
  • People who work outdoors or in hot and poorly ventilated areas
  • People who are not accustomed to the heat, for example, overseas visitors

 

Staying safe in the heat

Be prepared

  • Find ways to make your home or building cooler like light-coloured window coverings, awnings and shade cloth
  • Have air conditioners serviced before the start of summer
  • Ensure you have enough food, medicine and other supplies to avoid going out or if electricity supply is interrupted
  • If you have a medical condition, ask your GP for advice on how to manage the heat
  • Make a list of family, friends and neighbours you might want to check in on and ensure you have their current contact details
  • Drink 2 to 3 litres of water a day at regular intervals, even if you do not feel thirsty. If you are on a limited fluid intake, check with your GP
  • Limit intake of alcohol, soft drinks, sports drinks, tea or coffee
  • Eat normally but try to eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit. Avoid heavy protein foods which raise body heat and increase fluid loss

Keep out of the heat

  • If you can, avoid going out in the hottest part of the day (11am to 3pm). Avoid strenuous activities and gardening
  • Do not leave children, adults or animals in parked cars
  • If you do go out, wear lightweight, light-coloured, loose, porous clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen
  • Regularly rest in the shade and drink plenty of water

Stay as cool as possible

  • Stay inside, in the coolest rooms in your home
  • Block out the sun during the day and keep windows closed while the room is cooler than it is outside
  • Use fans and air conditioners at home to keep cool, or spend time elsewhere in air-conditioning like a library, community centre, cinema or shopping centre
  • Take frequent cool showers or baths and splash yourself several times a day with cold water
  • Open windows after the sun/heat has gone down to allow for air circulation
  • Make sure to stay cool while you sleep. Just because the heat has gone down doesn’t mean it isn’t still hot

Keep food safe in hot weather

  • Put food back in the fridge after using it
  • Don’t eat food left out of the fridge for 2+ hours
  • Put leftovers in the fridge after the food has cooled
  • Eat leftovers within two to three days
  • Read more about food safety

Being sun smart

If you have to go outside into the heat, follow a few recommendations from the Cancer Council NSW:

  • Learn to understand the UV index (when the UV index is 3 or above we need to protect the skin from sun damage)
  • Wear protective clothing (clothing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect your skin)
  • Apply sunscreen (choose a water-resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen which is at least SPF 30)
  • Wear a hat (wear a broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire-style hat for the best protection)
  • Seek shade
  • Wear sunglasses (protect your eyes properly with close-fitting wrap-around sunglasses)

 

Checklist for older people

Before a heatwave

  • Assess which care recipients are at risk – who has limited capacity to keep cool; or which areas of the facility are prone to being hot
  • Ensure entry/exit points can be monitored
  • Ensure cooling systems in the home are adequate and working effectively
  • Ensure alternative forms of fluid, such as jelly, ice-cream or fruit juice blocks are available

During a heatwave

  • Ensure the temperature in care recipients’ rooms are comfortable, keeping curtains and blinds closed to reduce excess heat
  • Monitor entry/exit points to avoid the unsupervised departure of care recipients during extreme heat events
  • Be aware care recipients may be at particular risk following high overnight temperatures
  • Ensure small amounts of fluids are readily available, rather than large amounts of fluids less frequently
  • Avoid serving caffeinated or alcoholic beverages
  • Provide care recipients with frequent small meals
  • Help care recipients to keep skin covered when exposed to direct sunlight and to wear loose fitting clothing
  • Avoid taking care recipients outside between 11am and 3pm
  • Offer tepid showers or sponging
  • Look for signs of heat stress, such as nausea or changes in appearance including red, pale or severely dry skin
  • Ask for a clinical assessment if care recipient shows any signs of deterioration

 

Caring for pets

Our pets are part of the family, and they feel the heat as much as us. The most common summer risks for pets are: overheating; sunburn; dehydration; stroke. Follow some simple steps to ensure they are safe and comfortable during hot weather.

  • Provide plenty of water and shade
  • Know the signs of overheating:
  • Heavy panting
  • Dry or bright red gums
  • Thick drool
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Wobbly legs
  • Never leave your pet in the car (it can take less than 10 minutes to develop heat stroke in dogs and cats inside a hot vehicle)
  • Apply sunscreen (pets get sunburns too, especially those with short or light hair coats; apply pet sunscreen only)
  • Don’t shave your pet (a pet’s coat is naturally designed to keep it cool during the summer and warm in the winter; trim but never shave)
  • Mind your walking hours (don’t walk your pet in the heat of the day; consider early morning and late evening)
  • Keep your dog’s paws cool (try to keep your pet’s paws off concrete, bitumen and other hot surfaces)
  • Keep parasites off (In summer, fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other parasites are everywhere)

 

Resources to help you prepare for a heatwave

Find more information on preparing for a heatwave and learn how heatwaves can impact chronic conditions and medications.

Download Your health matters in a disaster flyer, five simple steps to help prepare you if a disaster occurs.

16 November 2023

Eligible patients can now apply online for the Continence Aids Payment Scheme (CAPS).

CAPS is an Australian Government program which helps people over five years old who experience permanent and severe incontinence to cover some of the costs of buying continence products.

The new online application is available through the individual’s Medicare account on myGov or in the Express Plus Medicare mobile app.

Patients still have the option to use the existing CAPS application guidelines and application form, which can be downloaded or ordered from the Department of Health and Aged Care.

If someone else is applying on behalf of a patient, their representative must use the paper form.

Even if a patient applies online, they still need a registered health professional (such as a GP) to complete the health report section using the paper form.

The patient will then need to upload the report to their online application through their Medicare online account.

Please inform your eligible patients of the new online application process.

More information can be found at www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/caps and the department’s website.

21 September 2023

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children experience some of the highest rates of Otitis Media and associated hearing loss in the world.

Otitis Media is commonly known as ‘glue ear’ in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Left untreated, these conditions are directly linked to serious and long-term deficits. These include poor medical health, delayed communication and social skill development, challenging behaviour and learning difficulties.

With the COVID-19 lockdowns behind us, now is the time to complete crucial checks for children including:

  • regular ear checks
  • hearing assessments
  • onward referrals to ENTs / audiologists
Information for families

 

This article was written by members of the ‘Stronger Seeds, Taller Trees’ project which includes professionals from a number of government and non-government organisations in South Western Sydney. The group aims to support GPs working with families to navigate and access timely services when they have a concern about a child’s development.

 

20 September 2023

This week has been a timely reminder extreme heat can have a serious impact on people’s health.

Heatwaves and hot weather have killed more people in Australia than any other disaster.

Extreme heat can be dangerous for anyone, however it is particularly dangerous for those:

  • over the age of 75
  • babies and young children
  • overweight or obese
  • pregnant or breastfeeding
  • poor mobility
  • who are homeless
  • socially isolated, living alone
  • working in a hot environment
  • have a chronic illness (such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, mental illness)
  • have an acute illness (an infection with fever or gastroenteritis)
  • taking certain medications

Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency.

It occurs when the body temperature rises about 40.5 degrees.

Immediate first aid is critical to lowering the body temperature as soon as possible.

The effect of heat on chronic conditions

Most heat-related morbidity and mortality is due to the exacerbation of chronic conditions.

Conditions which most commonly contribute to death during a heatwave include:

  • cardiac events
  • asthma or other respiratory illness
  • kidney disease
  • diabetes
  • nervous system diseases
  • cancer

Dehydration and subsequent medication toxicity may exacerbate:

  • altered mental state
  • kidney stones
  • cardiovascular impairment
  • falls

Heat and medication

Some medications can increase the risk of heat-related illness. Some can also be less effective when exposed to high temperatures.

The following medications can be impacted by heat. (This list should be used as a guide only)

Interference with sweating, caused by:

  • anticholinergics, for example tricyclic antidepressants and benztropine
  • beta blockers
  • antihistamines
  • phenothiazines
  • vasoconstrictors

Interference with thermoregulation, caused by:

  • antipsychotics or neuroleptics, for example risperidone, clozapine, olanzapine
  • serotoninergic agonists
  • stimulants, for example amphetamine, cocaine
  • thyroxin

Decreased thirst, caused by:

  • butyrophenone, for example haloperidol and droperidol
  • angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors

Dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, caused by:

  • diuretics, especially loop diuretics
  • any drug causing diarrhoea or vomiting, for example colchicines, antibiotics, codeine
  • alcohol

Reduced renal function, caused by:

  • NSAIDS
  • sulphonamides
  • indinavir
  • cyclosporine

Aggravation of heat illness by worsening hypotension, caused by:

  • vasodilators, for example nitrates (GTN) and calcium channel blockers
  • anti-hypertensives

Levels of drug affected by dehydration (possible toxicity for drugs with a narrow therapeutic index), caused by:

  • digoxin
  • lithium
  • warfarin
  • antiepileptics
  • biguanides, for example metformin
  • statins
  • altered state of alertness, caused by any drugs which alter the state of alertness, for example alcohol, benzodiazepine and narcotics

Resources to help you prepare for heatwaves

At-risk community members can prepare for heatwaves and heatstroke using the resources below:

Heatstroke – Health Resource Directory

Preparing for a heatwave – Health Resource Directory

Healthcare providers can find more information at:

Beat the heat (nsw.gov.au)

14 September 2023

SWSPHN’s Disaster Management team will be sharing information about the importance of healthcare during a disaster or emergency, at the Wollondilly Emergency Services Expo on Saturday, 23 September.

The event will be held from 10am to 2pm at Victoria Park, Picton.

Representatives from the NSW Rural Fire Service, Fire & Rescue NSW, NSW SES, NSW Ambulance and the NSW Police Force will also attend the expo.

Our Disaster Management team will be holding a stall to provide community members with information about how to best prepare their health for a disaster.

They will also be distributing a flyer highlighting the five simple steps to follow to ensure your health and wellbeing can be prioritised during disaster.

The flyer, which provides practical advice about preparing your health for disaster as well as information about access to services, will also be available at:

  • Emergency Ready Day, Sunday, 24 September, 11am to 3pm, Koshigaya Park, Campbelltown
  • Community Links Wellbeing Festival of Fun, Sunday, 26 November, 10am to 2pm, Bargo Sports Ground

During an emergency, PHNs are the first points of contact on primary healthcare coordination and service availability, as part of the overall coordinated health response.

Health outcomes for our community can be greatly improved and enhanced when we prepare and respond to emergencies together.

17 August 2023

Fussy eating can lead to stressful and prolonged mealtimes, delayed oro-motor skills, and poor health outcomes including nutrient deficiencies (eg iron), slow growth and constipation.

Early intervention is required when fussy eating is caused by sensory sensitivities with food textures, or when it leads to highly restricted diets (less than 15 to 20 different foods) or challenging behaviours at mealtimes.

Children may require referral to speech pathology and/or occupational therapy.

When and how to refer

Mealtime strategies

  • Set up routines – Serve food at the same time and in the same place each day.
  • Create an engaging mealtime environment – Remove distractions (eg screens, toys) and share meals together as a family to model positive mealtime behaviours like trying new foods.
  • Encourage food exploration and play – Participate together in food preparation and play games with food like sorting by colour or texture, or building houses.
Start Them Right: A parent’s guide to eating for under 5s

This article was written by members of the ‘Stronger Seeds, Taller Trees’ project which includes professionals from a number of government and non-government organisations in South Western Sydney. The group aims to support GPs working with families to navigate and access timely services when they have a concern about a child’s development.

07 August 2023

State-wide Referral Criteria (SRC) are clinical decision-support tools which give health professionals the referral criteria they need to refer their patients to public specialist outpatient services across NSW.

SRC helps people who need to see a health professional in a NSW public specialist outpatient service be referred and prioritised in a safe and timely way.

They support patients and the health professionals looking after them to make a referral and assist NSW public specialist outpatient services with screening and triaging these referrals.

Please visit the NSW Health website for more information.

07 August 2023

In recognition of Mental Health month this October, SWS Local Health District will be hosting a creative project competition for school-aged children in South Western Sydney.

Students are asked to create an artwork which highlights ones or more of the Five Ways to Wellbeing:  

  1. Connect
  2. Be Active
  3. Take Notice  
  4. Keep Learning
  5. Give  

The winning artwork will be displayed online to promote Mental health month and raise awareness of the Five Ways to Wellbeing. 

Entries open Monday, 10 August 2023 and close Monday, 16 October 2023 —Term 4, Week 2

Five Ways Schools Creative Project 2023 – entry information

24 July 2023

The Junior Australian Sports Program will run from Monday, 31 July to Monday, 18 September, from 5.30pm to 6.30pm at Michael Wenden Aquatic Leisure Centre, 62 Cabramatta Avenue, Miller.

The eight-week multi-sport program is offered for children aged between four to 12 years of all skill levels, who engage in a range of sports activities including soccer, cricket, basketball, hockey, volleyball, AFL and touch football!

The program will centre around learning new sporting skills or refining skills, gaining tips and tricks from qualified and accredited coaches, and meeting new friends.

The program costs $100 per participant, and Active Kids Vouchers can be used to get $50 off.

Find out more/ register

20 July 2023

Some children have difficulty processing and responding to information from their senses.

This includes sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, proprioception (body awareness) and vestibular (movement) input.

Signs of sensitivities:

  • Seeking sensations (touching, smelling or licking textures, closely watching moving objects, difficulty sitting still)
  • Over-reacting to sensations (becoming upset when touched, easily distracted by noise/light, picky with food textures and smells)
  • Under-responding to sensations (appearing to ‘tune out’, low response to sound/touch, poor pain perception)

Download:

Sensory seeking versus sensory sensitive

When to refer:

Refer to an occupational therapist when a child’s sensory sensitivities interfere with everyday routines or engagement in learning. Early referral is key in improving functional, social and academic outcomes.

Download:

Early intervention – where and how to refer

Further information about sensory sensitivities

This article was written by members of the ‘Stronger Seeds, Taller Trees’ project which includes professionals from a number of government and non-government organisations in South Western Sydney. The group aims to support GPs working with families to navigate and access timely services when they have a concern about a child’s development.