Harper-Lee’s Law Campaign

Harper-Lee’s Law Campaign

This year's theme for the World Health Organization's World Patient Safety Day (17 September) is Engaging Patients For Patient Safety, in recognition of the crucial role patients, families and caregivers play in the safety of health care. Active patient involvement, both in their own personal care as well as at a strategic organisational level, is vital to help improve healthcare provision, and the RCSEd is delighted to support this year's WPSD theme. 

The RCSEd Patient Safety Group have produced a number of blogs as part of a campaign to mark World Patient Safety Day. In this blog, Jo Gideon MP, Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central, discusses the risks of button batteries, looking at the story of Harper-Lee Fanthorpe.

Button batteries are part of the everyday in all our households: the TV remote control, key fobs, games and toys, all contain a potentially lethal source of power. Through this world patient safety day we hope to raise the awareness of the danger posed by these batteries and in turn encourage ingestion prevention within our environments. The British Association of Paediatric Surgeons is actively drafting a UK guideline for District General Hospitals as well as tertiary units to manage any child who presents with an ingestion. Thanks must go to the Harper- Lee Foundation for contributing their personal story to this initiative.

Harper-Lee Fanthorpe died two years ago, after ingesting a button battery. The toddler was tired, so her mother Stacy had put her down to rest before going to work. Two hours later, her big sister Jamie rang to say something was terribly wrong. She had called an ambulance and Stacy rushed home to see Harper-Lee covered in blood. Initially the doctors though it was a burst tonsil, but the internal injuries pointed to the fact that she had swallowed a button battery, which had burnt through her oesophagus.

Stacy, even as she was broken by grief, vowed that Harper-Lee’s death would not be in vain. She contacted the editor of the local paper, who got in touch with me as their local Member of Parliament, to establish a campaign to prevent another child from injury or death as a result of swallowing a button battery. It was, and remains, Stacy’s way of ensuring a legacy in Harper-Lee's name.


Harper-Lee's mum Stacy with Jo Gideon MP

The aims were simple but challenging to deliver: 1) to raise awareness of the danger of button batteries 2) to set a minimum safety standard for products containing button batteries to prevent them falling out. 3) to require the safe packaging, display and disposal of button batteries and 4) improve data collection to inform clinical care and improve speed of diagnosis. 

We needed an official status to interact with government and key stakeholders, so the Harper-Lee Foundation was established as a charity in November 2021. It has worked directly with The British and Irish and the European Portable Battery Associations and the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT), as well as clinicians, retail associations, manufacturers and trading standards professionals, to try and reduce the likelihood and frequency of children swallowing button batteries. The awareness campaign was designed to provide expert information and guidance to parents and professionals working with children and families on how to handle button batteries safely and to highlight the health risks associated with accidentally swallowing them. The local launch of the Foundation was supported by the Stoke City Football Club Community Foundation and a short video was played at every home game of the season. In September 2022 Stoke City Council was the first council in the country to pass a Motion to be a Button Battery Aware Council.

Government has listened to the Harper-Lee's Law campaign and is actively working to improve safety standards. The business minister has set up five workstreams to cover 1) consumer awareness and education, 2) evidence, data and international comparisons, 3) industry standards and best practice, 4) emerging technologies and 5) enforcement and support for enforcing authorities. There may well be an opportunity to include legislation in a general Bill on safety standards. However, this will take time and before then practical actions must be taken to improve button battery safety.

Ultimately, evidence from around the world points to the need to legislate for minimum standards. The US are looking at the issue and legislation in Australia has taken effect this year, after an eight-year campaign following the deaths of three children. It has been the voice of grieving mothers which galvanises governments into action across the globe.

For more information about the campaign to introduce Harper-Lee’s Law, see www.HarperLeeFoundation.org.uk

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