95% of public would not assist in an emergency

The vast majority of the public would not respond to a heart attack, car crash or other emergency situation even if they have first-aid training, a survey has found.

The study by NUI Maynooth for the Irish Red Cross discovered fear of being sued or lack of practice were key among the factors causing 95% of those who answered being unlikely to offer assistance.

But with research suggesting more than half the deaths of children from injuries are preventable, the Red Cross says compulsory first-aid training for all second-level students could help.

Injury is the leading cause of death and disability for children and accidental burns, falls, and poisoning are among the most common causes. In 2009, 125 children and adolescents up to the age of 19 died as a result of injury in Ireland, but the European Child Safety Alliance estimates 69 of those might not have happened if our rate of injury death was reduced to the level in Netherlands.

The Irish Red Cross says first-aid training should be necessary to pass driving tests, a move which has been adopted by many European countries.

“The fact that 70% of European countries, including Ireland, have decided to make first-aid training compulsory at the workplace is encouraging and a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough,” said head of national services Fintan Breen.

All but 5% of Norway’s population is trained in first-aid, followed by an 80% rate in Germany and Austria.

“The difference between Ireland and Norway, and other countries with a high percentage score, is that they have laws that make it compulsory either at school, at the workplace or even when applying for a driving licence,” Mr Breen said.

While fear of not being competent to help or of being sued would prevent most people intervening, Dr Andrew Kelly of the Irish Red Cross said lives could be at risk from lack of training.

“Every minute following a collapse due to cardiac arrest, the chances of survival lessen by 7% to 10%. The speed of someone’s response to a medical emergency can therefore literally be the difference between life and death,” he said.

Sudden cardiac arrests claim 5,000 lives in Ireland each year and Dr Kelly said there is an urgent need to not just know how to respond, but to feel confident in doing so.

Almost 10,000 people were trained in first-aid with the Irish Red Cross last year, among 7m people trained by Red Cross globally.

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