British Heart Foundation (BHF) has been campaigning to make the teaching of Emergency Life Saving (ELS) skills a mandatory element of the secondary school curriculum. The skills necessary to save a life can be taught in as little as two hours.
Some schools already choose to offer this course through the skills element of the curriculum, often via the Personal Skills & Education (PSE/ABC). However, its inclusion is voluntary.
Secondary school pupils will happily tell you that, whenever the word “skills” appears in their timetable, they take their foot off the pedal. Learning to make a sandwich or draw a poster about dropping litter is not, as far as they’re concerned, a good use of their time. Teenagers know when they’re being patronised.
Over 100,000 people in the UK have signed a petition to introduce Emergency Life Saving Skills a compulsory part of the curriculum. 4,000 of them came from Wales. Perhaps that’s a little on the low side considering the high incidence of heart attacks in Wales.
Although there is no centrally collated data about how many schools teach ELS in Wales voluntarily, a survey carried out by the British Red Cross shows that 83% of UK teachers and 98% of parents support the teaching of first aid as part of the school curriculum. In Wales, the level was just 88% of parents. Again, lower than the UK average. Why?
Perhaps it shows that an awareness-raising campaign can only do so much, and what is needed is a bit more enthusiasm from both Welsh Government and curriculum planners.
Despite a commitment given by the Deputy Minister for Skills, in October last year, to consider ELS when revising the curriculum, there hasn’t been so much as an update from his department, despite a series of reminders.
Not a single head teacher in my region replied to my letter asking whether they taught ELS and seeking their views on this issue. That’s a shame, because parents have been more than happy enough to contact me to seek Assembly Members for this idea.
Around 30,000 people in the UK suffer a cardiac arrest outside of the hospital environment, of which fewer than 10 per cent will survive to be discharged from hospital. In Wales around 2,000 people each year die of a heart attack. A lot of these deaths are preventable. About two thirds of cardiac arrests occur in the home, and that nearly half that occur in public are witnessed by bystanders, including children.
If we equip them with even basic ELS skills, they can help make the difference between life and death. That has to be more important than teaching a child how to open a jar of tomato sauce and sticking it on a ready-made pizza base, or some of the other “skills” that find their way onto a pupil’s timetable.
British Heart Foundation, British Red Cross and St John’s Cymru already successfully provide training and support for teachers so they can deliver ELS, so it’s not as if the resources aren’t there.
In Wales, the emergency services have an 8 minute target to arrive at a scene following a 999 call, a target that is often missed. CPR given immediately following a cardiac arrest outside a medical setting, buys time and so can triple the chance of survival.
ELS is the set of actions needed to keep someone alive until professional help arrives. ELS can be performed without any special medical knowledge. It includes performing CPR, putting an unconscious person in the recovery position, dealing with choking, serious bleeding and helping someone that may be having a heart attack.
We are already behind many of our European neighbours – France, Denmark and Norway all teach lifesaving skills such as CPR as a mandatory part of their school curriculum. In the United States, a recent statement on science by the American Heart Association concludes that CPR training should be required for graduation from secondary school.
On 19th June, British Heart Foundation presented its petition to the Welsh Assembly’s Petition’s Committee.
My Statement of Opinion and short debate on this subject secured cross party support, so I would hope that the debate on the Petitions Committee report will not be short of speakers coming forward to support the compulsory teaching of ELS.
This is not a tough ask for the Welsh Government. Indeed, there is no real need for it to wait for the Petitions Committee’s findings. There is no real need for my Private Member’s Bill, which is in the process for being submitted.
By teaching children ELS at school, we can create a new generation of lifesavers. We can equip the next generation with the skills to prevent the growing number of deaths due to cardiac arrest.
So we need to do it now.