Could you save a life?

This was a question posed by the ITV Tonight programme aired on the 7th February 2013. View ITV

The programme made compelling arguments for First Aid and CPR training to be compulsory in the school curriculum. Opening the programme with real-life footage of a man collapsing on a train where no one came forward to offer help, the narrator had no alternative but to question – ‘Have we become a nation of on-lookers?’

Lacking knowledge and confidence 

After being shown footage of the incident, Dr. Andrew Lockey from the Resuscitation Council UK while finding the film both ‘shocking and depressing’, claimed he was not surprised that no one offered the collapsed man aid, observing that the main reason for this is that ‘people in this country don’t know how to do first aid and CPR’.  A recent survey by St. John’s Ambulance backs up this view citing  59% of its respondents felt they could not save a life in an emergency and  24% would stand by and do nothing rather than intervene. 

‘The most common reason why people don’t do anything is the fear of doing harm,’ said Dr. Lockey. ‘The facts are clear’ he continued. ‘If that person has had a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), you can do no further harm.’  

How do we compare with other countries?

Good Samaritan survival stories do happen but the UK lags far behind other countries where there are much higher survival rates from sudden cardiac arrest. Norway stood out amongst these with its southern city, Stavanger claiming a 52% survival rate from SCA compared to 18.5% in the UK.

Looking into the reasons for such a marked difference, Dr. Lockey points to the fact that First Aid and CPR training is compulsory in schools. This is in stark contrast to the UK where only 13% of its school leavers will have had any first aid training. Dr. Lockey continues, ‘If you have a sudden cardiac arrest in Norway, you’ve probably got a three times chance that somebody will come and do CPR.’  

Also contributing to Norway’s high survival rates is the prevalence of Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) in public places, which also form part of their First Aid training. The International School in Stavanger, highlighted in the programme, has five AEDs on its premises. Everyone in the school knows where they are and how to use them.

 AEDs are as important as Fire Extinguishers

Trudie Lobban, leading the UK’s Hearts and Goals campaign to promote more AEDs for public access reminds us that with CPR and AED use, a victim's chance of survival from sudden cardiac arrest increases by 50% compared to 5% from CPR only. ‘Defibrillators need to be as commonplace as a fire extinguisher,’ she says.  In the UK, fire extinguishers are mandatory - AEDs are not.  She continues, ‘Sadly, 400 people approximately die each year in a fire. 100,000 die each year from sudden cardiac arrest. With more defibrillators we could be saving tens of thousands of lives.’

A growing demand for compulsory First Aid and CPR training in schools

Through the tireless efforts of organisations such as the BHF, the Resuscitation Council UK and more recently, Fabrice Muamba’s highly publicised petition to Number 10, calls to government for compulsory First Aid and CPR training to be part of the school curriculum are gathering momentum.

Until then, could you save a life?