First Aid – What Should Be Left to the Professionals?
If you’re not medically trained, would you know what to do in an emergency first aid situation? What about if you’re first on the scene of a car accident, or when someone has a heart attack and needs urgent medical intervention to save their life? One of the main barriers to giving prompt attention to someone who needs it is fear, with a reported 34% of people unwilling to intervene because they are worried about the legal implications of getting it wrong. An even higher number, 63%, had a lack of confidence about their first aid knowledge. It may be something you never do, but if you are faced with a situation of serious illness what should you attempt, and what should be left to the professionals?
If someone’s heart stops beating, that’s about as serious as it can get. Unless someone acts quickly, the prognosis for someone having a cardiac arrest in a public place is bleak. Statistics from the UK show that only 18.5% of people who have a cardiac arrest while not in hospital survive, but comparable statistics from Norway show that 52% of victims survive. What’s the reason for these vastly different outcomes? In Norway, CPR is part of the school curriculum, bystanders are more likely to have been trained and know what to do. In the UK, first aid is not routinely taught, and the chances of their being someone willing to have a go are far less. From the person who has had the cardiac arrest’s point of view, bystanders have nothing to lose by trying to save the victim’s life. The general advice is to attempt chest compressions alone if you are unsure of the technique for rescue breaths too and to keep the chest compressions going until the paramedics arrive and take over.
Unconscious But Breathing
It’s perhaps a more common scenario to come across someone who has collapsed, appears to be unconscious but who is breathing and whose heart is beating. In these situations, do nothing and leave it to the professionals is the best approach. Call for an ambulance, put the person into the recovery position, if you know how, and do nothing else. Observe the patient until the emergency services arrive, make sure they continue breathing but don’t start any other medical interventions.
The reasons for the apparent rise in the number of serious allergic reactions in the developed world are unknown, but the number of children diagnosed with a serious peanut allergy tripled between 1997 and 2008. If someone is having an anaphylactic reaction to something, this is potentially fatal and you must act quickly. Call the emergency services and ask the person whether they have an anti-allergy injection, sometimes called an Epi-Pen. Help the person administer the injection, or inject it yourself into their thigh if they are unable to do so. Keep them still, don’t give them anything to eat or drink and monitor their condition until help arrives.
One of the rare other situations in which doing nothing apart from calling the emergency services is appropriate is when someone has been poisoned, either by swallowing a toxic substance or by taking an overdose of drugs. Try to find out what they have swallowed and keep the bottle or packet to give to the experts when they arrive. Many people think the logical thing to do is to make the person vomit but this could cause more damage if the liquid swallowed is very corrosive. Similarly, don’t give them anything else to eat or drink and monitor their condition until help arrives.
First Aid Training
Around the world, there are many organisations giving first aid training for members of the general public, often free of charge. Some courses are aimed at a specific audience, such as paediatric first aid for new parents, or geriatric first aid for non-nursing staff in care or residential homes. Taking a first aid course can banish the “fear factor” which stops people helping when faced with a medical emergency, and although the skills may never be needed, knowing what to do in an emergency could be a life-saving skill which is called into use at a random point in the future.
When was the last time you received emergency first aid training? Explore our full range of Medical Simulators here