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Increased calls to poisons centre

A sharp rise in calls about bleach, hand sanitiser and disinfectant products was observed at the National Poisons Information Centre (NPIC) during the early weeks of the Covid-19 crisis.

There were 173 calls from March to May 2020 concerning these products, compared to 84 for the same period in 2019. Such calls would mostly have come from members of the public.

The NPIC is situated on the campus of Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital and provides telephone information and advice to assist in the treatment of poisoning.

The centre operates all-year-round and has a 24-hour service for medical staff and other healthcare professionals (01-8092566). The out-of-hours service (10pm-8am) for healthcare professionals is answered by staff from the UK’s national poisons information service on behalf of the NPIC.

The NPIC also runs a public poisons information line (01-8092166) operating between 8am and 10pm, seven days a week, to provide triage advice to members of the public. Furthermore, the centre monitors trends in poisoning to help establish and update appropriate treatment protocols.

In 2019, there was an overall increase in calls — to above 11,500 — representing a rise of 10 per cent on 2018. The centre’s 2019 annual report is due to be released shortly.

“We have had a record number from members of the public but again, that is because we did target that; over 50 per cent of our calls now are from members of the public,” NPIC Clinical Director Dr Edel Duggan told the Medical Independent.

In 2018, the NPIC received 10,709 enquiries, with 10,461 (97.6 per cent) related to human poisoning. The remainder were non-emergency requests for information (n=199) and cases about poisoning in animals (n=49).

Just over half of enquiries (54 per cent) were from healthcare professionals in primary care, hospitals, and community pharmacies. Some 45 per cent of enquiries were from members of the public and the remainder came from a variety of settings, including nursing homes, schools, and veterinary practices.

Eighty-four per cent of human poisoning cases were accidental and 13 per cent were intentional overdoses or “recreational abuse”.

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