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First Aid is For Life - and Especially for Christmas

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I used to be a Cub. Then a Scout. Then a Venture Scout. If Beavers had been around, I'd probably have packed down with them too. I was raised with the three fingers of my right hand firmly aloft. I was prepared.

Summer was wide games (in a forest, running around with the criteria for winning so enigmatic that there are still teenage boys on a Pacific Island who think a game first started in 1989 is ongoing) and pioneering (big logs, lots of ropes, mechanical engineering Armageddon). Then the nights would shorten, winter would disturb our Thursday night fun with its chilly intolerance and we would head inside. So what would invariably be on the agenda? First aid. As short trousered Cublings, it was just plasters and bandages. Then as we became leg covered Scoutlets, there would be a ripple of excitement as we migrated onto the Resusi Ann device. Every year from the age of about 11 to 16 this pattern was repeated. Every year the key points of CPR were explained to me. Every year I successfully saved the life of a plastic doll whose lips tasted of the previous Scouts' illicit teenage cigarette smoke and wet wipes . And then adulthood. And...basically I had far more important things to do than save lives. I had pubs to visit, television to watch. Throw in a remarkable capacity to forget key skills and, hey presto, all those keenly honed first aid abilities were lost. Some Scouting talents remained - the ability to start a fire armed only with a zippo lighter and half a milk bottle of meths being one- but perhaps the most important had slipped away, consigned to the part of my brain marked as 'vague teenage memories'.

Fortunately for me - and more fortunately for others - I have not been in a position to regret this. But if a situation did ever arise, then the odds are it would be at this time of year. The Festive season is one of the busiest for A&E departments with more than 80,000 injuries, pushing the monthly average number of accidents in the UK to its highest level. Injuries range from burns sustained from lighting the Christmas pudding to electrocutions from fairy lights and, while they may add a bizarre twist to the statistics, they are still very serious and, in some cases, result in death. Instant first aid intervention might prevent these deaths - and would certainly reduce the severity of the injuries.

The numbers also show that I am not alone in my ignorance. The UK is one of the lowest-ranking countries in Europe when it comes to knowledge on how to administer first aid. Fewer than four out of 10 Brits would know what to do if they saw someone have an accident or suffer a heart attack. Compare that to the 80% of people in Germany and Scandinavia who possess first aid skills as a direct result of first aid training, and you can see how far behind we are. In fact it's estimated that that as many as 140,000 lives might be saved each year if someone with the necessary training was able to offer instant first aid.

One life that has been saved by first aid is 3 year old Lucas Lanfear. His older sister Courtney, using the skills she had learned from St John Ambulance, was able to resuscitate her brother after he had a seizure in his cot. Her story was used to illustrate the worth of such lessons at a recent meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for First Aid that I was fortunate enough to be invited to.

Also there was Beth Chesney-Evans whose son, Guy, died in a motorbike accident when he was just 17. The teenager suffered no injuries at all but died because he stopped breathing. According to the pathologist at the inquest, Guy's heart probably stopped due to an undiagnosed heart arrhythmia, which no-one knew anything about.

I managed to speak to Beth. She told me about her campaign to make first aid training an integral part of the school curriculum -as it is in Wales and Northern Ireland - and for making it a compulsory part of the driving test.

"First aid is a vital life skill and we're failing our young people if we don't give them the chance to learn it. For Guy's sake, I'm determined to carry on campaigning to ensure this happens," says Beth.

For the sake of those involved in accidents in festive seasons to come, let's hope this happens.

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