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First Aid

Volume 719: debated on Thursday 17 June 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the St John Ambulance campaign, entitled “The Difference”, promoting better public understanding and practice of first aid.

My Lords, the Government admire the work undertaken by health organisations such as St John Ambulance and the Red Cross, and warmly welcome the contribution that “The Difference” can make to the treatment of the ill and injured.

Given that the St John Ambulance report suggests that some 150,000 lives could be saved if there was a rudimentary understanding of first aid, and given the paucity of understanding in this country—where only seven out of 100 of us have such knowledge, compared to four out of five of our German colleagues—will the Government redouble their efforts and consider including first aid in the PSHE part of the national curriculum? Will the Minister also study the work being done in the north-west, in a crucial project in Greater Manchester, where ambulancemen and paramedics teach primary schoolchildren about the work of providing and administering first aid? That has gone down very well indeed.

My Lords, the noble Lord asks several questions there. As I have indicated, we are extremely grateful to organisations such as St John Ambulance, the Red Cross and the British Heart Foundation for the extensive and excellent work that they do. As a general approach, we are clear that the NHS locally is best placed to assess and address what is needed in its areas, as indeed in other areas of healthcare. However, we encourage NHS providers to consider the kind of partnerships that work so well.

As regards schools and PSHE, as the noble Lord will know, first aid is included in the PSHE part of the school curriculum. It is not a mandatory module, though it is often included in key stages 3 and 4. What I can do is convey the noble Lord’s concerns to my colleagues in the Department for Education.

My Lords, can the Minister assure me that emphasis will still be placed on the continuing need to educate the public about when to call an ambulance? I strongly support making people more aware of first aid, but there are many conditions, such as strokes, which it is too late to treat unless it is done within a certain timeframe. The ambulance service, as I learnt when I had a fall recently, is very good when you call at sorting out exactly what your symptoms are and whether you need an ambulance. Will the Government ensure that the public remain aware of that situation?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The kind of basic first aid provided by community first responders, as they are called, is extremely important, not least in terms of operating defibrillators. However, that sort of service should be seen as complementary to and supportive of ambulance responses to emergencies. It is not a substitute for emergency ambulance response, and it is right that my noble friend should raise that distinction.

I declare an interest as a former chief commander of St John. I am in touch with the recent campaign. It is interesting to note that there were 250,000 responses to an advertisement from people showing an interest in first aid, of which 70,000 indicated a desire to learn more about it. As part of this campaign, St John has decided that it needs to concentrate—the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, has already mentioned this—on young people and the workplace. An interesting statistic is that 45 per cent of incidents where resuscitation is required occur in offices rather than on building sites. Will the Minister assist St John and the many other agencies by supporting their call to improve workplace facilities for first aid to take place?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. We all know that St John is active in major emergencies and road accidents and was active in the London bombings of five years ago. She is absolutely right that accidents in the workplace are a significant feature of the kinds of injuries that hospitals see. The ambulance service extends training in the workplace in a number of areas. However, I shall go back to the department and inquire about the extent to which St John in particular is doing this work. We may be able to feed in some important messages.

Given the original Question, and the fact that we are in a workplace, has the noble Earl thought of enabling short first aid courses to be held in your Lordships’ House—I do not mean in the Chamber—so that we could respond in an emergency?

My Lords, the noble Baroness has asked my question. However, I wonder whether mouth-to-mouth resuscitation might be excluded from such a course?

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the St John’s guide on first aid and the five basics is free and can be carried round in somebody’s pocket? Should not all restaurants have it because people can choke very easily?

My Lords, I was aware that the St John guide is free. I take this opportunity to congratulate it on the way in which it distributes so much free material in this area. The noble Baroness raises a concern about the incidence of choking in restaurants. I am not aware of the extent to which restaurants as a whole are equipped to deal with that, but I will find out.