First aid: Why the Euros made us think again

In the United Kingdom only 10% of people survive a cardiac arrest. In Germany, the survival percentage ranges between 50% and 60%. We need to ask ourselves why there is such a vast difference between these survival rates?

In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 requires all employers to provide first aiders in the workplace. The Health and Safety Executive also recommends that when there are between 5 and 50 employees, there should be at least one individual who is first aid trained. For every additional 50 employees, a further first aider should be in place. For workplaces such as factories, construction sites and quarries with between 50 and 149 employers a minimum of one First Aider is required and between 150-299 a minimum of two First Aiders. There should then be an extra First Aider for every additional 150 employees. These numbers are scarily low and places people’s lives at unnecessary and considerable risk. What if the first aid trainer was off work? What if the first aider became unwell and required medical treatment? 

It appears that the general narrative is that people who may suffer from an Angina attack, heart attack or a cardiac arrest, may be of a certain age or have a medical condition that makes them more susceptible to them in some way. We often have this perception that if we are in good general health, these medical situations will never happen to us. I believe that this is why our first aider ratio is so dangerously low and inadequate. 

This presumption began to change when Professional Danish footballer Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest on live television, during a football match. This life-threatening cardiac arrest shocked people around the world, and the general narrative regarding these incidences suddenly began to be questioned. How could a young athlete, who appeared fit and healthy, have such a terrible thing happen to him?  

Christian Eriksen was in the fortunate position of receiving immediate medical treatment whereby Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) was performed within the first few minutes. This is because he was surrounded by people who knew how to perform CPR. Timing is crucial, because the longer that an Angina attack, heart attack or cardiac arrest continues without CPR and without a defibrillator, the less chance the person has of surviving. Sadly, the survival rates are already as low as 1 in 10.  

So, why do other countries such as Germany have such a higher survival rate than in the United Kingdom? Simply, the reason is that they have added First Aid Training to their national curriculum. I believe the same needs to happen in the UK, we should not leave ourselves vulnerable in a life-threatening medical situation, relying on a minuscule amount of people to save a life. If CPR training and defibrillator training was added to the national curriculum and continued throughout academic studies, in addition to in the workplace, we would all be much better equipped at dealing with a medical emergency. 

Angina attacks, heart attacks and cardiac arrests also happen outside of these environments, such as on the streets or at home. The British Heart Foundation state that only a third of people in the UK will attempt CPR as people do not know how to perform it, and they would rather risk waiting for an Ambulance, due to fear of performing CPR incorrectly. 

CPR can truly save a life, and it can prolong a life until an Ambulance arrives. All that is required is our hands, the knowledge of how to perform CPR, and a shout for help for someone to call 999. I believe it is of paramount importance that the nation’s fear of doing something wrong in that situation is overcome and I feel the only way forward is for CPR and Defibrillator training to be added to the national curriculum. It should be mandatory throughout higher education, and it should be considered essential and mandatory training throughout the workplace for every individual employee. 

We can do better than a 10% survival rate.  

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