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Watchdog calls for better safety measures for small batteries

THE death of a child who swallowed a button battery has led to recommendations for new safety standards and guidance for emergency health workers.

A report from the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch has recommended a government strategy to improve button and coin cell battery safety, including a standard covering their design, product casing, packaging and safe retailing practices.

Paramedics and other health professionals should also have support and guidance to spot the signs of a swallowed button battery.

The HSIB’s report follows the death of a three-year-old girl after she swallowed a 23mm battery in the run-up to Christmas 2017.

The report details the parents’ constant efforts over days to seek treatment for the child, who was initially diagnosed with tonsillitis and prescribed antibiotics.

Further visits to the family GP and local hospital followed, resulting in more antibiotics. Three days later, after a second call that day to 999, the girl died after she was taken by ambulance to hospital.

The HSIB said the case highlighted the significant risk to under five-year-olds from swallowing the batteries, which can become lodged in the oesophagus (food pipe) and cause a chemical reaction on coming into contact with fluid that erodes tissue in just two hours.

The report said the severity of harm caused by such batteries – commonly found in toys, remote controls and car key fobs – becoming lodged in a young child’s oesophagus was not widely understood by the public.

If a child is thought to have swallowed one, they should be taken to A&E immediately.

The safety body warned that small children are at higher risk due to their tendency to put things in their mouths, and people should be particularly vigilant to button batteries with a diameter of 20mm or more as they are more likely to get stuck in the throat.

More information on button batteries and their dangers can be found on the Child Accident Prevention Trust website.

The responses to the recommendations will be published on the HSIB website later this year.