Emergency staff need clear guidance on acid attacks

Bystanders and health professionals can improve outcomes if they act fast

Emergency department clinicians and ambulance crews should have clear guidance on dealing with acid attacks, leading emergency doctors say.

Picture: PA

Members of the public need to be educated too because witnesses to acid attacks can be key to minimising harm.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Barts Health NHS Trust consultant Johann Grundlingh, emergency medicine trainee Jessie Payne and Royal College of Emergency Medicine president Taj Hassan say the attacks are leaving individuals blind or severely disfigured. They suggest that using corrosive substances as a weapon appears to be a replacing the carrying of knives.

Spate of attacks

The comments come after a spate of corrosive substance attacks. There were more than 400 in the six months to April, according to police figures for England and Wales.

The authors wrote: 'The attacks, involving a range of corrosive substances, have brought into sharp focus the need for clinicians, law enforcement officers, and our law-makers to find ways to deal with this latest menace on our streets.

An offensive weapon

'Already, 2017 has seen a big increase in acid attacks. Whereas in the past most of the attacks were related to robberies, corrosive substances now seem to be a replacement for carrying knives.

'Corrosive substances are easy to conceal and have even been used in an attack in a courtroom, as well as in nightclubs.

'Public education is needed on how to deal with these injuries, as immediate treatment can substantially improve the outcome.

Quick action is key

'Similarly, ambulance service responders and health professionals in emergency departments must have clear guidance on immediate steps to minimise secondary harm, and training on how to deal with these devastating, life-changing attacks.

'The medical director of the London Ambulance Service has provided advice on how to approach acid burns and advises thorough irrigation after removing contaminated clothing.

'Bystanders who come to the aid of the victim of an attack can have an important role in minimising further injury.

Advice on what to do

'The victim should be removed from ongoing exposure as soon as possible. Irrigation of the affected area with copious amounts of water is vital to remove the chemical, and should be performed as soon as possible to minimise the long-term effects of scarring and need for surgical reconstruction.'

They added that victims often experience physical and mental distress for the rest of their lives.

Further information

Attacks with corrosive substances are increasing in UK

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