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People are putting themselves at risk of “catastrophic” injuries during the summer months by diving into shallow water, says one of the UK’s leading emergency doctors.
Dr John Heyworth, president of the College of Emergency Medicine and a consultant in the Emergency Department at Southampton General Hospital, has warned the trend is increasing among young males between their mid-teens and 40s – with alcohol a key factor.
“Diving is a huge problem and we are seeing more of it, not just diving from piers, but people diving into water generally whether it is the pool or a river or the sea.
“People are more inclined to take risks when their friends are doing it and when they have had a couple of drinks,” he said.
“If you dive into something that is shallow and you land on your head, there is a good chance of breaking your neck or back - both of which are potentially catastrophic injuries. It is the most dangerous activity that the hot weather and alcohol can lead people to do.”
Dr Heyworth says, despite publicity highlighting the dangers associated with misjudging the depth of water, people still believe they are immune from accidents and are oblivious to the degree of possible injury.
“All the publicity highlighting the dangers doesn’t seem to change people’s behaviour because, of course, it doesn’t apply to them - and that logic seems to apply even more when associated with a couple of drinks.
“They could die or end up paralysed, or they could break something in their neck or spine which then requires immobilisation and is painful for a very long time.”
Dr Heyworth believes there is a common sense approach to avoiding such life-changing incidents.
“The way of getting around this issue is very simple: check the depth of the water before you dive into it and, if it is deep enough, have a great time. If it is not, then please don’t do it.”
In addition to the dangers posed by diving, emergency departments across the country are likely to see a rush of holiday-related attendances, piling the pressure on hard-pressed doctors and nurses.
Dr Heyworth and his colleagues at Southampton General Hospital are expecting a tide of seasonal arrivals following falls from trees, burns, choking or food poisoning from barbeques, drunk adults and children, badly sunburnt skin, snake bites and kicks from horses – many of which are avoidable.
Booze-fuelled barbeques remain high on the risk list this summer and Dr Heyworth warns the consequences of drinking and cooking can be unpleasant and painful.
“There is no doubt the injury risks posed by barbeques increase as the consumption of alcohol rises, so there is a direct relationship between barbeque-related accidents and volume of alcohol,” he said.
“We see some quite horrific burns from contact with hot coals, which will burn quickly and deeply, as well as people who choke on big chunks of meat and people who have swallowed meat bones that get stuck and then have to be removed. We also often see children and the elderly suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting from undercooked or unhealthy meat.”
He added: ”Barbeques can be great fun, but keep the booze down to a reasonable level and stay away from the fire. We don’t think barbeques are dangerous but we do see a lot of accidents caused by them.”
Following a continuous flow of serious cuts to feet during the summer period year-on-year, Dr Heyworth lends some support to the much-maligned summer favourite the flip-flop, indicating it can offer a degree of protection.
“The worst thing people can do during summer is wander around in bare feet and that is far more dangerous than wearing flip-flops - they tread on glass, nails, tin and other unsightly objects and we see some very nasty cuts as a result.
“These can happen on grass, in the street, on beaches and if they catch their bare feet on a rock or under a rock then they can do some serious damage, so any form of protection to the foot is better than none.”
He continued: “We’re not anti-flip flop, we would rather people wore something on their feet while on the grass or on the beach as you never quite know what’s there.”
Dr Heyworth is keen to point out, though, that there is a fine line between getting out and having fun and overstepping the mark, which is the message he and his colleagues want to convey this year.
“We want people to be out there, to be active and sporty and to enjoy themselves and we understand that occasionally people get into scrapes which are just part of life, but when you could actually predict that this situation was likely to end in an accident, that is frustrating and something we want to avoid.
“If people did that, then everybody could have a great time, enjoy themselves, do all sorts of highly exciting, interesting and fulfilling activities and keep the number of avoidable accidents down to a minimum.”