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Hot drinks are the most common cause of burns to young children

16 October 2019

First aid for burns magnet

Parents are being urged to take care with hot drinks as part of a UK-wide campaign to tackle the most common cause of child burns.

The SafeTea campaign is based on evidence collected by researchers from Cardiff University, the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England and tested in collaboration with early years staff and parents of young children.

Research shows that more than 50,000 children in the UK attend hospital with burns each year, with the majority happening to children under five. Hot drinks account for 60% of hospital attendances with burns in children under three years – or 30 young children every day.

Professor Alison Kemp, from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine, who led on the research, said: “There are thousands of incidents of hot drink scalds every year, where potentially devastating injuries could be prevented with a few simple steps.

“Burns from hot drinks can cause serious and extensive skin damage to a young child, with lifelong scarring and the need for sustained medical treatment into adulthood. That’s why we are reminding parents to keep hot drinks well out of reach.”

Joseph Nash
Joseph Nash

Joseph Nash was scarred for life when he pulled a boiled kettle onto himself at nine months old. Now aged 28 and a dad to seven-year-old daughter, he is keen to warn others of the dangers.

He said: “The scars themselves throughout my life have been a hindrance. Every few years I’d have to go back, have those scars opened, have another skin graft to enable me to move normally. It’s caused a lifetime of continued treatment and it was a simple accident. Parents of young children have so much to think about. I think this is a hazard that is often overlooked.”  

David Farrell, senior charge nurse at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, welcomed the campaign. “The vast majority of children’s burns that we see are preventable,” he said. “Children are usually one step ahead of their parents when it comes to their development. Parents are often caught out by the things that they can do, such as pulling themselves up. If a parent has made a hot drink, they should put it well away from their child before they go near them or pick them up.”

Hot drinks can cause damage to a child’s skin even after 30 minutes. Researchers hope the awareness campaign will succeed in reducing the number of child burns seen by medical staff. To help spread the word, they have created a host of online resources for health professionals.

Professor Kemp added: “To avoid risk, parents should keep hot drinks out of reach of children, never pass a hot drink over a child,  or hold a drink and a baby at the same time. We also advise them to learn the correct burns first aid to help them in the event of an accident:  Cool the area under running water for 20 minutes; Call for medical advice, NHS Direct or 999; Cover the area with clingfilm. The moments following a burn are the most critical time for preventing long-term damage.”

SafeTea is informed by scientific research undertaken by the Children’s Research Network funded by The Scar Free Foundation and Health and Care Research Wales with financial support from the British Burns Association, Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers of the City of London, the VTCT Foundation, Cardiff City Region Exchange and Cardiff University.

For more information, go to the SafeTea website:

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