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Emergency medics urge public education on first aid for acid attack victims

Doctors want public education on how to deal with injuries caused by an acid attack.

People who witness acid attacks can have an “important role” in minimising the harm to the victim, leading emergency doctors have said.

Public education is needed on how to deal with injuries caused by an acid attack, they said.

After contaminated clothing is removed, it is “vital” that the affected area is irrigated with copious amounts of water to remove the chemical, the experts said.

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

Writing in an editorial published in the British Medical Journal, Dr Johann Grundlingh, consultant emergency physician at Barts Health NHS Trust in London, along with emergency medicine trainee Dr Jessie Payne and Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, say the “latest menace on our streets” is leaving victims blind or severely disfigured.

They suggest that corrosive substances now “seem to be a replacement for carrying knives”.

The comments come after a recent spike in corrosive substance attacks, with more than 400 being carried out in the six months up to April this year, according to figures from 39 police forces in England and Wales.

The authors wrote: “The number of high-profile ‘acid’ attacks has been increasing in recent years, especially in London.

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

“Already 2017 has seen a big increase in acid attacks in the UK, relative to 2016. 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.”

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

“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.”

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