According to NHS data, more people have been admitted to hospital in the UK in the last year because of plant-related injuries than because of firearms incidents. While some poisonous plants are to blame, the majority of hospital admissions were the simple result of contact with thorns, spines and sharp leaves – suggesting that Britain’s plant-lovers may be getting a little too close to nature.
It isn’t just plants that have caused a surprising number of hospital admissions, though:
- Hot tap water was the cause of almost 668 admissions in the last year, while contact with hot food and drinks resulted in an enormous 2,195 admissions
- 42% more people were admitted as the result of falling from beds, chairs and other furniture (36,607) than by motorcycle and bicycle-related injuries combined (25,531)
- Playground equipment sent 6,224 people to hospital and while 90% of these were children under the age of 14, more than 1 in every 50 was an adult in their 30s
- 5 adults and 2 children had the misfortune of requiring hospital treatment after the ‘ignition or melting’ of their nightwear, and a further 108 people were seen after setting fire to other items of clothing
- Exposure to natural cold weather resulted in 822 admissions, while natural heat and sunlight sent 297 people in search of help
- Fireworks hospitalised 131 people last year, with 109 of these classed as emergencies
Thorns, spines and sharp leaves hospitalised 371 people in the 2021/22 period, while contact with various venomous plants sent almost 144 more in search of medical attention – a total of 515 admissions. Comparatively, accidents, assaults and incidents of ‘undetermined’ or ‘unspecified’ intent involving firearms* were responsible for only 510 admissions.
Though there will have been many plant-related incidents and hot food run-ins that absolutely required proper medical attention, we suspect that better knowledge around home treatment for cuts, scrapes and burns could have helped some patients avoid a trip to the doctor.
Dealing with plant thorn and spine injuries
While wearing good quality gardening gloves and keeping skin covered go a long way to evading the injuries that everyday plants can inflict, someone is hospitalised by a thorn or sharp leaf every single day in the UK. That might sound silly, but thorn punctures and splinter wounds can easily get infected if not dealt with quickly and correctly - and retrieving plant matter from a deep cut can create more trouble than the initial injury.
How to remove thorns and splinters that are embedded in skin
1. Remove the thorn or splinter using a clean pair of tweezers
If the thorn is too small to get a good grip, wash the injury site thoroughly with soap and water before using a disinfected needle to push the debris out
2. With the debris expunged, gently wash the wound site
While soap and water are a good start, saline solution is a sterile option for wound cleaning - we advise keeping a sterile cleanser
in your home first aid kit.
3. Apply an antibiotic cream or ointment to the area, and cover with an adhesive bandage
This reduces the chance of infection while the wound is healing.
If you experience swelling, itching and redness several days after the initial injury, you may need to seek further treatment via your GP.
Tackling cuts made by sharp leaves
The process for treating minor cuts at home is very similar to the process for tackling thorns.
1. Clean the wound site thoroughly
2. Apply light pressure to stem any bleeding
3. Cover the wound site with a clean plaster or appropriate sterile dressing
Alcohol-free cleansing wipes, plasters and bandages in a range of shapes and sizes are essential elements of any home first aid kit
— just remember that whoever is cleaning and dressing the wound needs to wash their hands first to avoid unintentionally causing infection.
For cuts that won’t stop bleeding, where there is a lot of blood loss or where the victim has a loss of sensation or movement near the wound site, you should get them to A&E as soon as possible, even if you have a well-stocked first aid kit available for cleaning and dressing the wound.
For additional information about when to treat injuries at home and when to go to A&E, visit NHS.uk/conditions to find injury-specific advice.
About the data
NHS data cited here can be found at https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/hospital-admitted-patient-care-activity/2021-22
*Total figure excludes 39 gun discharge incidents noted as ‘intentional self-harm’ but includes all other handgun, shotgun, rifle and larger firearm discharge figures, plus ‘other and unspecified’ firearm discharge.
Plant figures include contact with specified and unspecified venomous plants and venomous marine plants, as well as with plant thorns, spines and sharp leaves.