More than 35,000 NHS admissions in the last five years have been for children with severe burns, figures show.
New data analysed by the Royal College of Surgeons shows that almost half of these burns are due to hot food or drink, with hundreds of youngsters under the age of two suffering scalds due to tea and coffee every year.
Plastic surgeons from the college and the British Burn Association are warning that children can face years of “gruelling” operations after suffering burns that are entirely preventable.
They are backing a new SafeTea campaign to prevent serious scalds from mugs of hot tea or coffee.
The NHS data shows there were 35,007 admissions for children to NHS specialised burn units in England and Wales over the past five years.
Some 49% (17,052) of these involved scalds from hot food or drink.
In 2018 alone, 51% (1,576) of child admissions for scalds to specialised burn services involved children aged two and under, with 57% of these for avoidable hot tea and coffee scalds.
Andrew Williams, a consultant plastic surgeon at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, who specialises in burns, said: “Burn injuries are common and potentially devastating.
“Tragically they occur too often.
“All it takes is for a small child to pull a kettle cord, or knock a cup of tea over, and they can be scarred for life.
“Every second counts when it comes to treating a new burn, so it is vital that parents know basic first aid – especially the importance of running scalded skin under cold water, for example.
“Recovering from a serious burn or scald can be physically gruelling if a patient has to undergo skin grafts and multiple operations, and it can impact the whole family.
“In young children, scar tissue might not grow with them, with the resulting need for potentially years of operations and therapy ahead of them.
“The road to recovery can also be psychologically very challenging, especially if a person has visible scars.”
Fadi Issa, consultant plastic surgeon at the regional burns unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire, said: “The way a burn is treated in those initial seconds and minutes after is crucial.
“Our advice is simple: 15-20-25.
“Run the scalded or burned skin under water at 15C for 20 minutes – and you could reduce the depth of a burn by up to 25%.
“This treatment can convert a deep burn needing surgery to one that just needs simple dressings to heal.
“The other key information is not to put any lotions or potions on a cooled burn.
“Cover it in cling film and seek urgent medical assistance.”
Among the advice to parents is running cold water in a bath or sink before adding cold water, keeping saucepans at the back of the stove rather than the front, and keeping hot drinks out of a child’s reach.
Experts also say children should never be left unattended in a kitchen.