Policy briefing

Acid attacks

Read our policy briefing on new guidance for helping in the immediate aftermath when people are injured in an acid attack.

Read our policy briefing on new guidance for helping in the immediate aftermath when people are injured in an acid attack

Picture: Liam Creighton/LNP

Essential facts

New first-aid guidance to help acid attack victims has been published by the NHS and burns professionals. 

Those first on the scene of an attack, including health professionals, are advised to ‘Report, remove and rinse’  to ensure the best outcome for the victim.  

NHS England has issued the public advice as the number of attacks has increased, as has the number of people needing specialist medical advice. In 2014, 16 people required such advice, rising to 25 in 2015 and to 32 last year, the organisation says.  

The poster, issued with the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS)  and the British Burn Association, tells people to report an attack by dialling  999, remov e contaminated clothing carefully and then rinse affected skin immediately in running water. 

Response kits

There has been a series of high-profile acid attacks this year in which corrosive substances were used as part of a violent assault or robbery. There were 114 attacks in the first four months of 2017 in London, including an incident in April in which 20 people were injured when a corrosive substance was sprayed on clubbers.  

In July it was announced that police in London are being issued with 1,000 acid attack response kits, including protective gear and five-litre bottles of water.  

As well as significant harm caused to individuals, the NHS estimates that the average cost of care for a victim requiring specialist burns treatment, eye care, rehabilitation and mental health treatment is £34,500. 

People assaulted with corrosive substances such as acid are likely to need a range of care after the emergency response. This could include therapy and specialist burns treatment, and in some instances eye or plastic and reconstructive surgery.  

Swift action

NHS Choices has also published new guidance to help victims and their relatives understand what help is available from the health service.  

A 2015 study published in the journal Scars, Burns and Healing found that victims in the UK were mostly young men, assaulted by male perpetrators. 

Implications for nurses 

Swift action immediately after an attack can make a difference to the severity of burns sustained by a victim. Try to remove the chemical and contaminated clothing from contact with the skin and eyes, but be very careful not to touch or spread the chemical as this could lead to further injuries to the victim or the person helping them. Use gloves or other protective materials to cover hands and if possible carefully cut away clothing such as T-shirts rather than pulling them off over the head. Do not wipe the skin as this may spread contamination. 

If the chemical is dry, brush it off the skin. Cool the burn with cool running water as soon as possible after the injury. 

Expert comment

krissieKrissie Stiles, network lead nurse for London and South East of England Burn Network, Queen Victoria Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

‘This advice is useful and timely, as the first aid that victims receive can make a big difference to the severity of the injuries.

'The longer the chemical is on the skin, the more layers are damaged. Irrigation as soon as possible, preferably with cool, clean running water, is essential. It is important to ensure that irrigation does not contaminate new areas with the chemical, so if, for example, the eyes are not affected, ensure water is poured away from them. Eye injuries are common in such attacks, and they are very quickly damaged by chemicals, often causing irreversible damage. Irrigation of the eye, by making the patient open their eyes, and keep blinking while the water is poured on, is a priority.’ 

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