Govt urged to curb child injury rates

Belinda Tasker

Health experts are calling for a new national injury prevention plan after discovering there has been no progress in reducing the number of children ending up in hospital after falls and other accidents.

While there might be safer playground equipment and more "helicopter" parents, research shows more than 680,000 children aged under 16 were treated for injuries in hospital at a cost of $2.1 billion in the 10 years to 2012.

A total of 1759 children died as a result of their injuries, with the annual number of deaths rising from 108 to 149.

The findings feature in a report by health and medical researchers from the University of Sydney, Macquarie University and Australian Catholic University, who were alarmed to discover child injury hospitalisation rates had not dropped despite injury prevention being a national health priority for 30 years.

They have made nine recommendations to the federal government, urging a national agency be set up to co-ordinate an injury prevention plan to replace the one that expired three years ago.

"With injury continuing to represent a substantial burden to the Australian community and as it is the highest cause of death and hospitalisation in Australian children aged one to six years, the development of a current national injury prevention strategy in Australia is long overdue," their report, released on Tuesday, says.

Injury is the most common cause of death among Australian children, with more than twice as many kids admitted to hospital with injuries compared with cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease combined.

Falls were the most common cause of injury, according to the report, with fractures the most common type of injury.

Most falls involved playground equipment, prompting the researchers to call on councils to carry out routine safety audits to check that items such as swings, slides and climbing frames meet national standards.

Sporting activities were found to be the most common activity kids were involved in when they were injured, and the family home was usually the place most kids under 10 were hurt.

Children had a higher risk of dying from their injuries if they lived in regional or remote areas, were aged under 10, had a head injury or were involved in a transport incident.

One of the report's co-authors, Sydney University Professor Kate Curtis, said while the report did not want to discourage kids from being adventurous in their play, having a national injury prevention plan would help ensure they were safe and received proper care if they were hurt.

"Kids are kids and they're going to keep getting injured because you can't stop kids climbing a tree or swinging off a rope swing," she said.

"But when those children do get injured we need to be able to make sure that no matter where they have their injury they get the best available opportunity for survival."

Comment was being sought from Health Minister Greg Hunt.