drunkNearly 300 children aged 11 or under were admitted to A&E units across the UK last year after drinking too much, newly revealed research has shown.

In the first-ever piece of UK-wide data the BBC revealed a total of 6,500 under-18s were admitted in 2012-13. The five years of data came from Freedom of Information requests to 125 of the 189 UK NHS organisations.

Charities and public health bodies say fewer children are drinking overall, but those who do may be drinking more.

Prof Ian Gilmore, chairman of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance, said: "I think in under-11s, it's mainly experimenting, but I think we see children in the 11 to 16-year-old range who are beginning to drink regularly."

"There are some encouraging signs in that the numbers of under-18s drinking is probably falling, but those that are drinking are probably drinking earlier and drinking more heavily, so we certainly can't be complacent."

Over the last five years A&E departments across the UK have dealt with nearly 48,000 incidents where under-18s have been admitted for drink or drug related illnesses.

During 2012/13 there were 293 cases of children aged 11 or under attending A&E with alcohol-related conditions - a third more than in 2011/12 when there were 216 cases.

Ayrshire and Arran Health Board dealt with the highest number of cases last year - with 483 alcohol-related attendances.

Morten Draegebo, an A&E consultant at Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock, said children were exposing themselves to significant danger.

He said: "We have had many cases where teenage, young teenage females have come in saying that they may have been sexually assaulted and they're that intoxicated and are distressed and say, 'I may have been', but they don't even know if they have been or not.

"On a humane level that is very distressing. I'm a parent, I would hate for that to happen to my daughter."