Acid attacks are becoming increasingly common in the UK, and emergency doctors are calling for better public education on how bystanders can help. 

London particularly has seen a dramatic rise in attacks, with corrosive substances now “seeming to be a replacement for carrying knives”, according to a group of London doctors writing in the British Medical Journal. 

More than 400 attacks have been carried out in the six months up to April this year, according to figures from 39 police forces in England and Wales.

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“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,” read the report.

Carrying corrosive substances is currently legal in the UK, with no restrictions on volume or strength. 

A change in legislation is being considered, however, with the authors of the BMJ report saying legislation reviews may need to be fast tracked to make sure that carrying corrosive substances becomes a criminal offence. 

In the UK, men are twice as likely as women to be victims of acid attacks, according to figures obtained by the BBC from London’s Metropolitan Police, with attacks often being linked to gang violence.

Just last month, the Evening Standard reported that six people had been attacked with acid in London in just 24 hours.

“We have something that is at risk of becoming a fashionable crime, like how moped crime went through the roof,” Labour London Assembly member Andrew Dismore told London’s Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey.

“If it does then it is in danger of becoming an epidemic, which it isn’t at the moment.”

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How to Help an Acid Attack Victim

The initial steps to follow are relatively simple and don’t require medical training. But if you’re prepared, you can help reduce the impact of an attack that can cause lifelong physical and mental distress.

The advice below comes from the British Medical Journal, the London Ambulance Service and the British Red Cross. 

1. Remove contaminated clothing and jewellery.

2. Wash the affected area  

It is vital that the area is irrigated with lots of water to wash away the chemical, say “starting at the area of contamination or the face or eyes.” 

Joe Mulligan, head of first aid education at the British Red Cross, added: “For this type of burn you need to cool the burn as quickly as possible with cold running water. Pouring cold running water over the affected skin will cool the burn and also help to wash away the acid. 

“Water is best but you can also use cool liquids such as cold beer or milk, whatever is nearest.”

The London Ambulance Service notes that a shower can be used, as can mild soap on skin, if you have either available. 

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3. Call 999, while continuing to wash away the chemical

Making sure a victim gets help as soon as possible is essential, because acid burns can have a devastating impact on a person’s life, both mentally and physically.

4. Reassure the victim 

Mulligan added: “Comforting the victim is also a really important part of any first aid as it calms the person and decreases stress levels, which have been shown to help with recovery.” 

5. If you have a first kit available, loosely apply a dry bandage, gauze or clean cotton clothing to the affected area

A key thing that you should bear in mind throughout is also to keep yourself safe, for example, by wearing gloves or using a towel to protect yourself from the substance, according to the London Ambulance Service.


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Acid Attacks Are on the Rise in London: Here’s What You Should Do If You Witness One

By Imogen Calderwood