While acid attacks are still rare, the number of attacks are on the rise. As a result many are wondering what to do if they bear witness to this abhorrent crime.
Experts have revealed that time is of the essence and acting quickly can help minimise injury and substantially improve outcomes for victims.
The NHS and burns specialists have issued guidelines on the steps to take in the first “crucial minutes” following an attack.
Firstly, witnesses are urged to call the emergency services on 999. Then, contaminated clothing should be removed and the affected area should be rinsed with running water.
The steps can be easily remembered by: report, remove, rinse.
Professor Chris Moran, national clinical director for trauma at NHS England, said: “Whilst this type of criminal assault remains rare, the NHS is caring for an increasing number of people who have fallen victim to these cowardly attacks.
“One moment of thoughtless violence can result in serious physical pain and mental trauma, which can involve months if not years of costly and specialist NHS treatment...
“Our guidance will outline what first steps to take in the event of an attack in those crucial minutes before professional clinical help arrives on the scene.”
Doctors at Barts Health NHS Trust and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine previously issued similar advice, explaining that bystanders who come to the aid of the victim of an attack “can have an important role in minimising further injury”.
They said public education, alongside legislation and clear guidance for health professionals, will play a key role in tackling this rising crime.
Joe Mulligan, head of first aid education at the British Red Cross, agreed adding: “Acid attacks are extremely distressing and can lead to serious burns. 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. Call 999 while you are cooling the burn.
“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.”
Once in the emergency department, ongoing treatment and specialist review is vital to limit long term physical and emotional effects of victims, they add.
Doctors suggest that “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”, experts have said.
In London, the Metropolitan Police recorded almost 300 acid attacks in 2010, after which numbers decreased to 162 in 2012, but demonstrated a steep increase since 2014. There were 454 attacks in 2016, up from 261 in 2015.
Already 2017 has seen a big increase in acid attacks in the UK, relative to 2016. And, whereas in the past most of the attacks were related to robberies, corrosive substances now seem to be a replacement for carrying knives.
Recent figures obtained by the BBC from the Metropolitan Police show that men are twice as likely to be victims of attacks - and many of these attacks have been linked to gang-related violent crimes.
Yet the authors point out that currently in the UK, carrying corrosive substances is legal with no restrictions on volume or strength, although a change in legislation is being considered.
In 2002, after similar attacks, Bangladesh banned the open sale of acid and imposed stringent punishment of offenders, which saw the number of attacks fall by 15-20% a year. India and Cambodia have since implemented legislation to combat acid attacks but have yet to introduce laws restricting the ease and availability of acid.
The rising incidence of acid attacks is an evolving challenge to law enforcement, write the authors. Current legislation is being reviewed and may need to be fast tracked to ensure that carrying corrosive substances becomes a criminal offence, they add.