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A doctor working at the centre of London’s acid attack epidemic today urged bystanders to douse victims with gallons of water to help save them from horrific burns.

Dr Johann Grundlingh, a consultant emergency physician at Newham hospital and the Royal London, in Whitechapel, said first aiders may fear they were “water boarding” victims but pleaded with them to act decisively as they awaited medical help as “every second counts”.

Almost a third of the 454 attacks reported in London last year were in Newham, and Dr Grundlingh said he had treated about 20 victims across both hospitals.

He and colleague Jessie Payne, with Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, today published an article in the British Medical Journal suggesting that new laws be fast-tracked to make carrying acid a criminal offence.

It added: “Public education is needed on how to deal with these injuries, as immediate treatment can substantially improve the outcome.”

St John Ambulance acid advice

Dr Grundlingh told the Standard of one case where a victim submerged his head in a bucket of water and escaped with injuries “a bit like sunburn”. But in another case, where a weak acid was thrown, there was a delay in washing it off and the victim was scarred.

He estimated that about half of acid attacks were gang-related and half were during robberies. “The thing about acid is that it’s a concentrated corrosive substance,” he said. “To treat it, you have to dilute it. The more water you use, the better.

“The problem is that very often it is a facial burn. You don’t want to ‘water board’ someone who is already quite distressed, but I think gentle and continuous irrigation with verbal reassurance is the right way forward.

“Keep irrigating the face. If you can open the eyes to irrigate the acid, that is even better. Acid burns. It congeals the skin within minutes. The longer it stays on it, it just keeps burning and scarring.

“This is not something you what to leave and wait for an ambulance to arrive. You want to treat this as quickly as possible. The normal instinct is to try to wash it off, but people don’t do enough.”

It came as St John Ambulance published advice for the public (above) on how to help in the event of an attack after its trainers received an increase in inquiries.

Last week the Standard revealed that police response cars were being fitted with acid crime response kits, including five litre bottles of water and protective equipment. “Five litres is a good start, but very often you need more than that,” Dr Grundlingh said.