Surgeons warn of lifelong consequences of severe burns – as new figures show there were over 35,000 child admissions in the past five years
• 49% (17,052) of child admissions to designated specialised burn services in the past five years involved scalds from hot food or drink.
• 51% (1,576) of child admissions for scalds to designated specialised burn services in 2018 involved children aged 0-2 years.
• 57% of the admissions to designated specialised burn services among 0-2 year-olds in 2018 related to hot tea or coffee spillages.
• The Royal College of Surgeons of England is backing this year’s “SafeTea Campaign” as part of National Burns Awareness Day.7
Plastic surgeons from the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) and the British Burn Association are warning that children can face years of gruelling operations and treatment following preventable burns or scalds, such as from hot tea or coffee spillages. New figures from the International Burn Injury Database (iBID) show there were 35,007 child admissions to specialist burns hospitals in England and Wales in the past five years (2014-2018).
The figures show that almost half – 49% (17,052) – of child admissions to designated specialised burn services, in the past five years, involved children who had been scalded by hot food or liquid spillages. The Children’s Burns Trust estimates that the average cost to the NHS for treating a patient with a major burn is £168,155.1
As part of the ‘SafeTea Campaign’ to mark National Burns’ Awareness Day, surgeons are issuing preventative and first aid advice for burns. This year’s campaign aims to prevent serious scalds from mugs of hot tea or coffee and to reduce the number of children who are seriously burned each year, often due to preventable accidents.
A snapshot of the five year data, reveals that in 2018 there were 6,645 child admissions to designated specialised burn services in England and Wales; and 47% (3,119) of these burns to children involved spillages from hot food or drink. Over half – 51% (1,576) – of these burns admissions for scalds involved children aged 0-2 years old. More than half of these (57%) were for avoidable coffee and tea scalds.
Mr Andrew Williams, a consultant plastic surgeon at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, who specialises in burns, says: “Burn injuries are common and potentially devastating. Tragically they occur too often. Prevention is clearly key to reducing the number of patients we treat, which is why we want to raise awareness of this issue. All it takes is for a small child to pull a kettle cord, or knock a cup of tea over, and they can be scarred for life. Every second counts when it comes to treating a new burn, so it is vital that parents know basic first aid – especially the importance of running scalded skin under cold water, for example.
He adds: “Recovering from a serious burn or scald can be physically gruelling if a patient has to undergo skin grafts and multiple operations, and it can impact the whole family. In young children, scar tissue might not grow with them, with the resulting need for potentially years of operations and therapy ahead of them. The road to recovery can also be psychologically very challenging, especially if a person has visible scars. This is why it is so important that we all – and particularly parents of young children – are aware of the simple steps they can take to reduce the likelihood of such accidents from happening the first place .”
The International Burn Injury Database is based on data from designated specialised burn services in England and Wales and therefore does not include minor injuries not referred to a burns service (i.e. where patients are treated by a GP surgery or in Accident and Emergency Departments).
The Children’s Burns Trust estimates that on average 110 children per day are seen in emergency departments with burn injuries – 46 as a result of a hot cup of tea or coffee spillage. It says that the most common place of injury for children is in the home – 49% of whom are burnt in the kitchen; and accidents are most likely to occur between 3pm and 6pm.
Mr Fadi Issa is Wellcome Trust CRCD Fellow, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at the regional Burns Unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and Scientific Director of Restore, the Burn and Wound Research Trust. He is supervising a one-year RCS Research Fellowship in burns, wound healing or soft tissue reconstruction. Mr Issa says: “We see a large number of very young children with scald injuries where an accident has taken place at home.
“The way a burn is treated in those initial seconds and minutes after is crucial. A recent study, which was carried out at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and the University of Oxford2, and part-funded by the RCS, shows what a difference cooling a burn can make. Our advice is simple: 15-20-25. Run the scalded or burned skin under water at 15 °C for 20 minutes – and you could reduce the depth of a burn by up to 25%.3 This treatment can convert a deep burn needing surgery to one that just needs simple dressings to heal. The other key information is not to put any lotions or potions on a cooled burn. Cover it in cling film and seek urgent medical assistance.”