A matter of life or death

PUBLISHED: 09:00 04 October 2012

Choking scene from St John Ambulance ad

Choking scene from St John Ambulance ad


A lack of first aid is one of the biggest killers in England, but Anna Dubuis discovers that a three-hour basic course could be the difference between life and death.

Peter LongbottomPeter Longbottom

Would you know what to do if someone was choking in front of you? Up to 140,000 people in England and Wales die each year when basic first aid could have saved their lives, according to St John Ambulance.

Shockingly, this more than equals the 139,000 deaths from cancer each year, although very few people realise how serious first aid should be taken.

Research by the charity shows that in Dartford seven times as many people think cancer is a bigger killer than a lack of first aid.

The survey also reveals that while many people make conscious life changes to reduce their chances of cancer, such as eating more healthily, not smoking and increasing exercise, of those questioned in Dartford no one knew basic first aid skills.

Peter LongbottomPeter Longbottom

To hammer it home, St John Ambulance’s new hard-hitting TV advert follows the journey of a man who is diagnosed with cancer, undergoes treatment and recovers, only to die as a result of choking at a family gathering because no one knows what to do.

Their aim is to encourage people to take first aid more seriously to help stop easily preventable deaths.

The battle they face is that many people think learning first aid is too time-consuming.

Down at St John’s Ambulance in Dartford, a three-hour course costing £30 teaches the essential skills required in situations such as when someone is unconscious, choking, not breathing or bleeding heavily.

Course leader Peter Longbottom explains: “If people had some basic training not so many people would end up dead.”

The course is often full, and those signing up often come after having witnessed a tragic accident.

“Sometimes something has happened in somebody’s family or they have seen something happen and didn’t know how to help so they come along to the course,” says Peter.

“We also run baby and child courses which many new parents and grandparents come along to. I have had one case where a couple’s child died from choking. And often when we get the mannequins out some people may panic as they may have tried CPR on somebody before unsuccessfully.”

More than half of those surveyed in Dartford admitted it would take something as severe as the death of a loved one to make them take steps to learn first aid.

Alan Murphy, 26, is attending a three-day course for health and safety training for his waterworks company and doubts he would have signed himself up of his own accord.

“I probably wouldn’t, not in my own time. My girlfriend is a nurse and luckily she hasn’t had to use her knowledge but she says it is really good to know. It is just me being lazy.”

But his course mate Mandeepak Sahota, 35, a factory worker, says: “I haven’t ever had to use first aid but after this course I will try. I think I would do this even if I hadn’t been asked to. You never know what might happen.”

To watch the video and for more information go to the charity’s website at or text HELP to 80039 to receive a free pocket-sized guide featuring first aid skills.

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