First aid saves lives, yet still we read reports of emergencies where bystanders failed to act. New research highlights an urgent need for the public to be more widely educated in first aid so we take action when it matters most says Anthony Redmond.
While the treatment of injured patients has improved significantly in recent years, and people now survive injuries of a severity previously thought impossible, you still have to get to hospital alive in order to get the treatment. Granted that is what paramedics are for, but what about the time before they arrive? Should, or could, we the public be doing more after we have phoned 999?
New research commissioned by the British Red Cross and conducted by The University of Manchester’s Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute, has found that up to 59 per cent of pre-hospital deaths from injury might have been prevented, had first aid been carried out before the arrival of the emergency medical services. This highlights a significant missed opportunity for lives to be saved through the actions of the general public.
The research, which analysed data from coroners’ offices in Cheshire and Manchester, showed that the majority of bystanders – up to 93% – called 999. But many then did nothing more, while waiting for the emergency services to arrive. Yet simple actions could have been the difference between life and death. For instance, turning someone on their side and tilting the head back to keep their airway open, or applying pressure on a wound to stem the flow of blood.
It seems common sense, yet people are understandably reluctant to step forward to help if they feel they don’t have the skills. Our research highlights an urgent need for the public to be more widely educated in simple first aid. First aid must be recognised and promoted for the essential life skill that it is. Namely simple, but lifesaving.
An opportunity missed
Surprisingly, despite recommendations made the last time such research was carried out by Hussain and Redmond in 1994, and following widespread public and parliamentary support for campaigns run by the Red Cross and others to make first aid compulsory to learn in school, this plan has not been realised.
First aid could actually be taught in any number of subjects from sport to sciences or PSHE (Personal, Social, Health & Economic Education) or during assembly time or in after school clubs. But it is currently a postcode lottery whether a child has the chance to learn this crucial lifesaving skill. In England, only 24 per cent of secondary schools teach first aid.
It is clear that the UK government and devolved administrations must do more to ensure all schools teach first aid by making it a mandatory requirement and – along with schools, teachers, parents and young people – encourageit to be taught through existing subjects and whole-school approaches.
First aid and the driving test
Since Hussain and Redmond’s report in 1994, the number of road deaths has decreased but the figure remains significant. In this light the recent Department for Transport British Road Safety Statement (2015) is a comprehensive strategy, but it fails to mention bystander first aid as a key post-collision response that may reduce the number of people killed and injured on UK roads.
In March this year Will Quince MP introduced a Private Members’ Bill which proposed attending a four-hour practical first aid course with an approved provider as a minimum requirement for attaining a driving licence. While the bill did not have sufficient time to progress during the parliamentary calendar, it has helpfully raised the profile of the issue and given impetus for change.
Call to action
The British Red Cross is calling for more opportunities to learn first aid throughout a person’s lifetime – starting at school, but also throughout their life, including as part of the driving test and through public health initiatives.
Other European countries already recognise the value and importance of first aid training. In Norway, for example, first aid is both compulsory to learn at school and learner drivers must attend a practical first aid course before they can drive on the roads. As a result 95% of the population is educated in first aid.
It makes sense that if the majority of the public know first aid, bystanders who find themselves in an emergency situation will be more likely to help each other out and know what to do – be it an elderly relative who has fallen down the stairs, or someone has just been hit by a car and is bleeding heavily.
Surely we should all want to be part of a society where people have the basic lifesaving skills, the confidence and the willingness to step in to help others in crisis? A society where everyone is ready to save a life, not just the trained few? After all, the next bystander at an accident may be looking at you.
- More information about the research commissioned by the British Red Cross and conducted by the University of Manchester, and about the British Red Cross campaign can be found at at #DontStopAt999 : redcross.org.uk/Dontstopat999