First aid has been around since the 11th Century, so why do so few people know what to do when someone becomes ill or injured in the UK today?

Let’s look at the stats. Approximately 95% of the population in Norway are first aid trained. In Germany and Austria, about 80% are first aid trained. Here in the UK, the figure is more like 5–10%. That’s right, 90-95% of people in the UK don’t know what to do when someone becomes ill or injured. So, why is this?

It starts at school

One reason may be that we aren’t taught first aid in school. It seems incredible that during 12 years of compulsory education we are unable to allocate a few hours to help people understand a few basic skills to keep another human being alive. It’s likely that this will change eventually and it will become one of those conversations which begins with surprise that we taught people how to use algebraic methods to solve linear equations in one variable, but not how to help someone who’s choking on their food.

If it was important, it’d be a legal requirement

In certain circumstances such as where we have an official duty of care, we are required by law to have certain people trained in first aid. However, outside of these environments there’s no requirement to have these skills. Perhaps we could change this. In over 56% of European countries, a person needs to have a first aid certificate before they can get a driving licence.

That doesn’t seem like a bad idea. After all, we’re currently granted a licence to drive on roads where currently officially about 200,000 people are injured or killed each year (unofficially, that figure is estimated to be about three times that) but in the UK we aren’t required to have any first aid training to help us deal with an accident. Again, in time it seems that this is something which will change. And then, it will seem like we should have done it ages ago.

It’ll probably be ok

Perhaps we generally don’t bother because we always think we’ll just be able to wing it. We may think we’ll instinctively know what to do, but realistically, we really don’t. When someone becomes ill or injured, we need to know immediately what to do and it needs to be well rehearsed. Ideally, the first time you need to do something this important, shouldn’t be the first time you try it. We can ‘Google’ most things we need to know but standing over someone choking or bleeding to death isn’t the time to be doing research.

Isn’t that someone else’s responsibility?

Maybe we assume someone else will know what to do. However, in a country where 90%–95% of people don’t know what to do, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll be in the company of a first aider when you need to be.

It’s ok, it’ll never happen to me

We might think that these things won’t happen to us but every year there are an estimated 60,000 out of hospital cardiac arrests in the UK. Survival rates depend greatly on the knowledge, skills and actions of bystanders at the scene. Currently in the UK, survival rates range from between 2% to 12%. Unfortunately, someone dies of a heart attack in the UK every 7 minutes. Less people would die if more people knew how to recognise when something is wrong and knew what to do.

Help is close at hand

We might think that emergency help will arrive very quickly, but this is also a dangerous assumption. When a human heart stops beating effectively, permanent brain damage can occur within the first few minutes after breathing stops. Unless someone trained in first aid recognises what is happening and takes immediate appropriate action, even the most sophisticated emergency services will not be able to save them. Their chances of survival decrease by about 10% every minute. Where ambulance response time targets for life threatening incidents are 75% within 8 minutes, life or death is quite literally in the hands of those around them at the time.

These few thoughts are in no way exhaustive, but there’s one easy fix

For whatever reason, it’s amazing that so few people know what to do to keep another human being alive if they become ill or injured. There are plenty of excuses why we don’t have life saving knowledge and skills. Perhaps we really need to take ownership ourselves to make sure we have the skills to help someone in need. We should also make a conscious effort to encourage other people to learn and become advocates of first aid. After all, surrounding yourself with other people who know what to do if you become ill or injured can have a dramatic effect on your chances of successful recovery.

This isn’t a substitute for first aid training. If you’d like to be able to deal with a variety of first aid issues with confidence, book a first aid course in Newcastle, the North East or wherever you need us! Get in touch for more information.

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