Public Health Wales find a link between drinking alcohol and drowning among young people


A new report by the Child Death Review Programme at Public Health Wales has found a link between drinking alcohol and drowning among young people. The report also suggests that closer and appropriate adult supervision may help prevent drowning in some cases.

The ‘Thematic review of deaths of children and young people through drowning’ includes recommendations to support the prevention of deaths from drowning.  A key recommendation emerging from the report is that organisations in Wales need to work together in a new national forum to improve water safety.

The report also highlights the need for consistent guidance on safer bathing for children and young people with epilepsy and their carers, and to support healthcare professionals.  There is currently no widely shared consensus advice on safer bathing for people with epilepsy.

The thematic review looked at the deaths of children and young people from birth to 24 years between 1 October 2009 and 30 September 2014.  26 deaths were considered in the review, which included individuals who were normally resident in Wales or died within Wales.

The report finds that majority of deaths occurred in older children and young people, with 21 deaths (81 per cent) occurring in individuals aged 12–24 years.  These deaths tended to occur in open water environments.

Five of the deaths (19 per cent) were children aged 11 years or under.  These deaths tended to occur in closed water environments, like pools.

The report also finds that the majority of deaths were in males, with 21 (81 per cent) occurring among this group.

Almost one third of deaths (31 per cent, eight of the 26) may have been linked to possible alcohol consumption.

Dr Sarah Jones, Consultant in Environmental Health Protection for Public Health Wales, said:

“The death of a child or young person is a tragedy which has an immeasurable impact on families, friends, and communities.  That is why it is so important that we do everything we can to reduce the risks.

“This report has made a number of findings about the death through drowning of children and young people. It indicates that drinking alcohol is linked with drowning among young people, and that closer and appropriate adult supervision may help prevent drowning in some cases.

“We hope the recommendations emerging from this report will help agencies to work together to reduce drowning rates in a new national forum to improve water safety.

“This report also has implications outside of Wales.  It highlights the need for consistent UK wide guidance on safer bathing for people with epilepsy. We are asking our colleagues at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to review their guidelines to ensure that practitioners deliver consistent agreed safety messages around epilepsy and bathing.”

David Walker, Leisure Safety Manager at the Royal Society for the Prevention Accidents (RoSPA), said:

“We very much welcome the report and the work of the review programme. A coordinated approach is needed to make the step change required to further reduce accidental drowning deaths in Wales and the rest of the UK.

“Setting up a new forum that provides clear and balanced water safety messages, together with a coordinated plan for Wales to work on, is a critical first step.”

The report also advises:

  • Organisations in Wales should have common messages on water safety, appropriate to the setting
  • There are interventions that may encourage safer swimming or prevent unintended contact with water, like self-latching gates around pools
  • Education on how pool-based lessons relate to open water could be included in Welsh Government efforts to ensure every child in Wales is able to swim
  • Planning is needed in Wales to take forward the UK national drowning prevention strategy (2016–2026) goal of producing publically available community-level risk assessment and water safety plans
  • Holidaymakers at home and abroad could be encouraged to be more aware of water safety, supported by the tourist industry routinely providing advice and guidance on water safety
  • There are opportunities to improve sharing of data, and to look at how information is communicated to support prevention, including reports by coroners
  • Appropriate support for those involved in drowning events in Wales is important

The Child Death Review programme in Wales aims to identify and describe patterns and causes of child death including any trends, and to recommend actions to reduce the risk of avoidable factors contributing to child deaths in Wales.