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Breakdown of accidental child poisonings reveals areas for improvement

Child poisonings due to accidental exposure to medicines are down but there has been an increasing number of non-urgent presentations to emergency departments.

Recent research from the University of Sydney found that hospital admissions for child poisonings from medicines have decreased but lead author Dr Jane Bell said poisonings remain a common and preventable issue.

The study found that from 2007 to 2013 in New South Wales there were 67,816 calls to the poisons information centre (PIC), 7,739 emergency department presentations and 2,082 hospital admissions.

Accidental exposure to medicines among young children results in almost one hospitalisation, three emergency department presentations and 27 calls to the poisons information line every day.

The most common medicines involved were those containing paracetamol, ibuprofen and nappy rash creams.

“Our study found that poisonings occur most commonly in toddlers aged one to two years old, and most of these are related to children accidentally accessing medicines at home. The importance of safe storage of medicines, out of sight and out of reach, should be promoted,” Bell said.

The number of emergency department presentations remained stable, with a decrease in emergency cases offset by an increase in semi or non-urgent cases.

Bell said that if parents or caregivers contacted the PIC rather than heading to the ED the advice from professionals may reduce their anxiety and worry and prevent an unnecessary trip to the hospital. “If children with semi and non-urgent poisonings could avoid the emergency department, it would reduce the impact of pharmacological poisonings by one-third.”

She added the findings point to the need for better labelling of medications, child-resistant packaging and public education campaigns to promote use of the PIC and reduce non-urgent emergency department presentations.

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