NHS warns of rise in children admitted to hospital for ingesting toy parts
Leading NHS doctors have issued a warning to parents ahead of Christmas following an increase in the number of children admitted to hospital having swallowed small objects from toys.
Surgeons have had to perform life-saving operations to remove button batteries, magnetic balls and Christmas cracker toys in previous years, doctors said.
The number of young people taken to hospital after ingesting small objects has doubled over the last 10 years to 228, according to the latest data, some of whom have suffered devastating consequences.
Doctors are particularly concerned about “small button batteries” that they say make up part of several “high-profile Christmas gifts” and also charge festive lights, TV remotes and even festive greetings cards.
The penny-sized batteries can burn through a young person’s throat, food pipe or other internal body part, in a very short period of time if swallowed, causing irreversible damage, the NHS said.
They can easily go undetected if they lack electrical charge, but can get lodged and react with the body’s chemicals, creating alkali over a period of time and eventually causing a huge abscess cavity in the chest that can be fatal.
The Child Accident Prevention Trust says one to two children a year die in the UK from swallowing the batteries, while survivors may end up with life-changing alterations to their anatomy.
NHS national clinical director for children and young people Professor Simon Kenny said: “This time of the year is meant to be one of joy as families come together – and the last thing anyone wants is to spend Christmas at hospital as their child undergoes life-saving surgery.
“But unfortunately we are seeing an increase in the number of children at hospital because they have swallowed a foreign object – double the number we had 10 years ago – and the consequences can be devastating, especially when that object is a button battery or magnetic ball causing irreversible damage.
“We know these batteries and other small objects are part of Christmas gifts, lights and other everyday items like remote controls, but I would urge parents to keep their children as safe as possible by making sure loose batteries are securely out of reach and any gifts have batteries screwed in especially if they are bought online or from less reputable sources.”
The number of children under 15 who were admitted to hospital and required treatment after ingesting a small object has risen from 115 in 2011/12 to 228 in 2021/22, according to NHS Digital data.
This data is for children aged 0-14 and does not account for food, water, or other liquid such as bleach, or for anyone that did not require hospital admission because for example they were treated in the community or died before being admitted to hospital.
Dozens of these cases can end up needing intrusive surgery at specialist children’s hospitals – with a handful requiring major surgery on heart bypass to repair traumatic holes caused by batteries and magnets.
RoSPA’s (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) public health adviser Ashley Martin said: “RoSPA is aware of a number of deaths and some serious injuries in the UK as a result of children swallowing objects like small toy parts, magnets and Christmas decorations. Christmas is a busy time and it’s easy to get distracted but we urge families to be vigilant and to keep these products out of the reach of small children.
“Button batteries, which can be found in many products, are particularly harmful. Check compartments are secure and that there are no loose button batteries lying around. If you think a child may have swallowed a button battery, seek medical advice immediately. Remember that time is very much of the essence.”
NHS England is advising parents to make sure toys have lockable battery compartments, be vigilant with items such as musical greeting cards and flameless candles and immediately take a child to A&E if they swallow a battery.Published: by Radio NewsHub