NHS warns of rise in children ingesting toy parts at Christmas as councils crackdown on unsafe toys

The number of young people hospitalised after ingesting small objects has doubled over the last 10 years to 228, according to the latest data from NHS Digital. Credit: PA

A warning to parents has been issued by leading NHS doctors ahead of Christmas following a rise in children being admitted to hospital having swallowed small objects from toys.

Doctors said surgeons have had to perform life-saving operations to remove button batteries, magnetic balls and Christmas cracker toys in previous years.

It comes as Cambridge and Peterborough Trading Standards announced they have seized 62,000 unsafe toys in the past 18 months.

Their haul included toys without safety certificates, and there were very obvious risks such as easily removable wheels on model diggers that could have choked a child.

The number of young people hospitalised after ingesting small objects has doubled over the last 10 years to 228, according to the latest data from NHS Digital, and some have suffered "devastating consequences".

"Small button batteries" are a particular concern for doctors, which currently make up part of several "high-profile Christmas gifts" and are also used in fairy lights, TV remotes and sometimes festive greetings cards.

The batteries are penny-sized and can burn through throats or internal body parts rapidly after being swallowed. The NHS said this can cause "irreversible damage".

The Child Accident Prevention Trust says one to two children a year die in the UK from swallowing batteries, and survivors can end up with life-changing injuries.

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."

Button batteries can burn through a young person's throat, food pipe or other internal body part, in a short period of time if swallowed. Credit: PA

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.

Advice to avoid buying unsafe toys

After seeing an increase in unsafe toys this year, the following advice has been issued by Jacqui Harvey, Head of Operations for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards.

  • Buy from reputable traders

  • Take extra care on online platforms: "You will not be familiar with most of the sellers on these platforms, and many will import directly from overseas without regard for our toy safety requirements."

  • Check button batteries are locked: "They should be safely secured behind a screwed down flap or behind a cover that requires an action of a minimum of two independent movements. If any of these are missing, don’t buy them."

  • Low prices could mean counterfeit toys: "Whilst genuine brands work hard to make sure their products are safe, those who deal in counterfeits do not. Often the parts are inferior, they may contain unsafe chemicals and of course won’t have passed any UK safety tests."

The Child Accident Prevention Trust also has a list on its website of hazardous things to look out for when giving toys to a child.