Objectives: Activated charcoal is now the mainstay of non-specific treatment for self poisoning in accident and emergency (A&E) departments and should be administered within one hour of ingestion of an overdose. This study aimed to investigate if compliance with treatment guidelines may be improved by the prehospital administration of activated charcoal.
Method: Ambulance report forms and case notes were reviewed in all patients presenting to A&E by ambulance after self poisoning. Information was gathered using a standardised abstraction form. The times collected were: time of ingestion, time of call to ambulance control, time picked up, time of arrival in A&E and time seen by doctor.
Results: 201 patient records were reviewed. Twenty six were excluded because of incomplete data on report forms or case notes. The median time between ingestion and pick up by an ambulance crew was 77 minutes. This compares with a median of 140 minutes for the time to assessment by medical staff. Seventy three patients were picked up by an ambulance within one hour of overdose, only 11 (15%) of these were seen by medical staff within an hour of ingestion. Forty nine of these 73 patients would have been suitable candidates to receive activated charcoal.
Conclusions: The prehospital administration of charcoal provides an opportunity to comply with international guidelines on reducing the absorption of a potentially fatal overdose. The administration of charcoal results in few side effects provided the patient can adequately protect their airway and ambulance staff could be trained in its use. Further studies would be necessary to investigate if this would effect clinical outcome.
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