The Dangers of Christmas and the Real Black Friday

Statistics from the NHS shows that the festive season is one of the busiest for the UK's A&E departments, with more than 80,000 accidents putting an already stretched service under even more pressure.

At the end of last month, there was much talk about 'Black Friday' - the day when Christmas shopping was said to really begin in the hearts and minds of Britain's consumers and shopkeepers. Some people gave this idea short shrift, saying that stories of battlegrounds being drawn all over the UK as previously rational human beings wrestled seasonal jumpers out of the hands of unsuspecting fellow shoppers was just a big marketing scam. Whether or not this was the case, calling the day 'Black Friday' may have been a little hasty. In fact, I think that there is another Friday that has a far bigger claim on this dubious title. However, the reason for this is far more somber.

Statistics from the NHS shows that the festive season is one of the busiest for the UK's A&E departments, with more than 80,000 accidents putting an already stretched service under even more pressure. Anecdotally, the week ahead of Christmas is said to be incredibly busy, but the worst day of all is commonly believed to be the Friday before the 25th. Which, if you are reading this on the 20 December, is today - so be careful.

So why is this? Well, when you think of the many Christmas parties that will take place that night and the mayhem-inducing factor of alcohol, it's no wonder that A&E departments become so busy.

As you can imagine, The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) have also looked at this, and they ask people to consider the dangers within the home:

"Christmas is a time when your home is likely to be full of people and it is in the excitement of the season that accidents can easily happen"

The type of accident that Christmas can bring could be considered blackly humorous, that is until it happens to you. For example, kitchen hazards become exacerbated by the sheer number of people and size of the meal. That's not forgetting the dangers of cooking it incorrectly. Stairs can become an obstacle course when covered in presents and presents themselves may have been opened with a dangerous pair of scissors and assembled without proper equipment.

Even decorating a Christmas tree can cause problems. Back in 2002 it was found that about 1,000 people had visited A&E that year after being injured by their Christmas tree, usually while fixing stars, lights or other decorations to the higher branches. Maybe new research would show that we as a nation have become safer, but I doubt that it would.

The dangers of festive foliage do not end there - even mistletoe could be considered a hazard, with the berries of the plant having toxic and potentially hallucinogenic properties.

Yet there is still something that we can do to possibly ease the pressure on the nation's hospitals. Instant first aid intervention could reduce the chance of any of these accidents having a tragic outcome, yet the chances are that anyone present when the accident occurred wouldn't have a clue about what to do.

That's because the UK's first aid knowledge is shamefully low. We are down the bottom of the European league table when it comes to first aid wherewithal, with fewer than three out of 10 Brits knowing what to do if they saw someone have an accident according to St John's Ambulance.

In fact, if you want to give yourself the best chance of pulling through a Christmas crisis, then you would be advised to head to somewhere a bit closer to Father Christmas' homeland. That's because in Scandinavia 80% of people possess first aid skills. It's believed that this is as a direct result of first aid training being an integral part of both the school curriculum and vehicle driving test. Inspired by this sorry state of affairs, there is now a growing campaign in the UK for our education chiefs to follow suit and make these skills just as much of school life as Maths and English.

But I don't want to spread too much fear and consternation ahead of Christmas Day. Of course, these accidents often occur in quite extreme or bizarre circumstances, and if 80,000 people are rushed to A&E, that still leaves an awful lot of us safely dozing off in front of the telly after watching the Queen's speech. However, just remember this if you do have to buy someone a last minute present on the real Black Friday - get them some first aid lessons. After all, you could be the one who really benefits.