Use of thermostatic valves could save NHS over £3 million a year
In an article published online (Tuesday 14 June 2011) in the BMJ Journal, Injury Prevention, health economists have suggested that the installation of temperature controlled (thermostatic) mixer valves in social housing in the UK would save the NHS more than £3 million in scald treatment every year.
Professor Ceri Phillips, Deputy Head of Swansea University’s College of Human and Health Science and one of the authors said: “There are over 2600 bath water scalds reported every year in the UK – many of which could be prevented by the installation and use of thermostatic mixer valves that control the temperature of the hot water supply.”
With the lifetime cost of treating each scald injury estimated to be in the region of £250,000, the total health service costs in England and Wales amounts to more than £61 million.
Children under age 5 are at particular risk of bath water scalds and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are more than three times as likely as their more affluent peers to require hospital treatment for burns and scalds.
New building regulations, which took effect in England and Wales in April 2010, stipulate that the hot water supply to any fixed bath must not exceed 48 degrees centigrade in new build properties or those where there is a change of use.
But thermostats on home water heaters are often set at 60°C or above, and at this temperature adults can easily sustain partial or full thickness burns after 3 and 5 seconds, respectively. Children are even more quickly affected.
Thermostatic mixer valves on bath taps are one way of addressing the new requirement, say the authors. But it has not been clear how cost effective this approach would be.
The health economists compared the costs of buying, installing, and maintaining thermostatic mixer valves in new build or completely refurbished properties with the known costs of treating young children with scalds. They used a wide variety of published data to calculate that there are 582,700 social housing households in the UK with young children at risk of bath water scalds.
A reduction in scald risk of 68% following the installation of a thermostatic mixer valve to the bath taps – which was achieved in the study on which the cost-effectiveness assessment was based - would cut the risk of a child under 5 requiring hospital treatment for five or more days or specialist treatment to 1 in 12398; the risk of a shorter hospital stay to 1 in 16,186, and the risk of emergency treatment to 1 in 2788.
If the cost of installing a valve at £13.68 per unit were applied to all 582,700 households, this would total £7.9 million, conclude the authors.
Avoiding the expected 444 scalds a year among children in these homes would save the NHS £11.2 million, producing a net saving of £3.3 million or £1.41 saved for each £1 spent every year.
Professor Phillips concluded: “The study clearly shows that social housing providers should consider fitting thermostatic mixer valves when baths are replaced as well as complying with existing building regulations for ‘new build’ homes.”
The Swansea University led study, Preventing bath water scalds: a cost effectiveness analysis of introducing bath thermostatic mixer valves in social housing, was undertaken in collaboration with Nottingham University, University of West of England, University of Glasgow, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the Child Accident Protection Trust.
The BMJ Group is one of the world's most trusted providers of medical information for doctors, researchers, health care workers and patients group. www.bmj.com.
The study: Preventing bath water scalds: a cost effectiveness analysis of introducing bath thermostatic mixer valves in social housing was undertaken by Ceri Phillips and Ioan Humphreys, Swansea University; Denise Kendrick, James Stewart and Carol Coopland at Nottingham University; Liz Towner, University of West of England; David Stone, University of Glasgow; Leslie Nish, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde; and Mike Hays, Child Accident Protection Trust.
The findings are based on families with children under 5 living in homes in Glasgow, Scotland. The data was provided by Europe’s largest provider of social housing.
This news item forms part of Swansea University’s support for the second annual Universities Week, which takes place from 13-19 June 2011, and aims to increase public awareness of the wide and varied role of the universities in Wales and across Britain.
Universities Week looks at the many different ways in which universities affect all of our lives — from supporting the economy, to working within local communities, to looking at how their research programmes could change our futures. Hundreds of events will be taking place around the country open to members of the public, as well as high-profile media coverage and activity across social media networks.