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Accidents at Christmas - is Britain prepared?

10th December 2012 Print

The Festive season is one of the busiest for A&E departments with more than 80,000 injuries, pushing the monthly average number of accidents in the UK to its highest level.  Injuries range from burns sustained from lighting the Christmas pudding to electrocutions from fairy lights and, while they may add a bizarre twist to the statistics, they are still very serious and, in some cases, result in death.    Instant first aid intervention might prevent these deaths – and would certainly reduce the severity of the injuries but, the chances are that anyone present when the accident occurred wouldn’t have a clue about what to do. 

The UK is one of the lowest-ranking countries in Europe when it comes to knowledge on how to administer first aid. Fewer than four out of 10 Brits would know what to do if they saw someone have an accident or suffer a heart attack. This compares extremely unfavourably with the 80% of people in Germany and Scandinavia who possess first aid skills as a direct result of first aid training which is an integral part of both the school curriculum and vehicle driving test.

No-one knows better the importance of encouraging more Brits to learn how to save a life than Beth Chesney-Evans whose son, Guy, died in a motorbike accident when he was just 17.  The teenager suffered no injuries at all but died because he stopped breathing. According to the pathologist at the inquest, Guy’s heart probably stopped due to an undiagnosed heart arrhythmia, which no-one knew anything about.

Similar to the condition that caused Bolton Wanderers player, Fabrice Muamba, to collapse in front of millions of TV viewers on the football pitch, arrhythmia causes the heart to beat irregularly, which can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

Maumba touched the lives of millions and he was fortunate that expert help was available to keep him alive. In Guy’s case, the three friends riding with him at the time hadn’t had any first aid training themselves, weren’t given any first aid instructions by the emergency services and had to stand there as he died.

They are not alone. It is estimated that that as many as 140,000 lives might be saved each year if someone with the necessary training was able to offer instant first aid.

Beth is a fierce campaigner for making first aid training an integral part of the school curriculum as in Wales and Northern Ireland, and for making it a compulsory part of the driving test.

“First aid is a vital life skill and we’re failing our young people if we don’t give them the chance to learn it.  For Guy’s sake, I’m determined to carry on campaigning to ensure this happens,” says Beth.

Beth also works closely with St John Ambulance and last April, she helped the charity to launch the first All Party Parliamentary Group for First Aid.  The APPG’s key focus is practical - offering free first aid training to MPs and, on the 4th of December, a group of MPs will qualify as fully trained first aiders. It is hoped this will encourage people in their constituencies and around the country to follow their lead. The APPG will also aim to find the most effective way to ensure as many people as possible have the skills to save a life.

Sir Bob Russell, Chair of the All Party Group for First Aid (sponsored and supported by global pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim) said: “First aid organisations such as St John Ambulance and the Red Cross have a vital role to play in reducing the number of unnecessary deaths due to a lack of first aid.  Only last month in Parliament someone collapsed in the viewing area when the Parliamentary nurse was not on duty and no one really knew what to do.  These newly-trained MPs will ensure this doesn’t happen again and, more importantly, are the first step in ensuring we become a nation of life savers.”