Compulsory first aid courses in Canberra

A teenage girl who helped save a boy with her first-aid skills has called on MPs to back compulsory lifesaving lessons in schools.

Alisha Poyser, 16, says her own training meant ‘the difference between life and death’ when an 11-year-old fellow pupil suffered a serious head injury at school.

Now the student has written a moving open letter to politicians urging them to help create a new generation of lifesavers by supporting the Emergency First Aid Bill.

Tabled by Labour MP Teresa Pearce, the Bill would make lessons mandatory in state secondary schools, including academies and free schools – but it needs widespread political support in order to become law.

The Mail on Sunday has campaigned to get the Bill a second reading on November 20 – the last chance to get it passed in this Parliament.

In her letter, Alisha tells MPs: ‘I’m so thankful that I was able to help that day because nothing is worse than feeling helpless, especially when someone you care about needs medical help.’

Senior doctors, including NHS England medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, have already pledged their support, along with St John Ambulance, the British Heart Foundation and the British Red Cross. These charities are also urging the public to lobby their MPs to support the Bill.

Support from at least 100 MPs is needed for it to stand a chance of being passed – and for lives to be saved. Last week, the three charities took their campaign to Westminster, marking another crucial step towards the Bill becoming law.

‘Lifesaving skills are so important and I feel proud to have been able to help,’ says Alisha, from Derby, who learned first aid in the Army cadets. ‘If I hadn’t been taught what to do then who knows what might have happened. That’s why everyone should have the training.’

Emergency first aid, which covers everything from asthma to cardiac arrests, doesn’t take long to teach but it can be the difference between life and death. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), for example, can be taught in just 30 minutes and dramatically improves survival rates for people suffering a cardiac arrest. However, only a quarter of secondary schools in the UK currently teach CPR.

Other simple techniques such as applying pressure to a wound can also mean the difference between life and death for anyone who is bleeding severely. This is exactly what Alisha did when she came across a pool of blood at the bottom of a flight of stairs and then spotted a boy bleeding heavily. It was later discovered he had fallen and hit his head on a metal railing.

The Emergency First Aid Bill would make lessons mandatory in state secondary schools, including academies and free schools. Above, a stock picture of a group of teenagers learning how to use an oxygen mask

The Emergency First Aid Bill would make lessons mandatory in state secondary schools, including academies and free schools. Above, a stock picture of a group of teenagers learning how to use an oxygen mask

When he lost consciousness in the incident last September, Alisha put him in the recovery position until help arrived. Although this was the first time Alisha had put her skills into practice, she remained calm throughout the accident at The Long Eaton School in Nottingham.

‘People were starting to crowd round but the teachers got everyone away,’ says Alisha, whose ambition is to be an Army combat medical technician. ‘I thought he’d hurt his eye at first but when I moved back his hair I saw the cut was above his eye on his forehead.

‘He’d hit his head on a railing and I’d never seen so much blood before – it was pouring out – and he was not saying anything because he was in shock. But the adrenaline and my training kicked in straight away. I wasn’t panicking. I felt very calm and didn’t hesitate.’

The Bill was tabled by Labour MP Teresa Pearce (pictured)

Alisha’s friends all started clapping when she walked back into class, and the school’s head teacher telephoned her mother Leanne to say how proud he was of her actions. The boy, who does not want to be named, is understood to have made a full recovery.

‘First aid is not like having to sit in a classroom – it’s fun to learn and all very practical,’ says Alisha.

Prof Keogh says that compulsory first-aid training in schools is ‘essential’, and that the earlier children are taught it, the better chance they have of retaining the knowledge. ‘It’s essential, especially given we are trying to stop people going into A&E with minor injuries such as cut fingers,’ he told The Mail on Sunday.

‘The earlier we teach children first aid, the more likely they are to retain this knowledge – and they can also teach the rest of the family. I and other senior colleagues want training to become mandatory in schools through this Bill and campaign.’

St John Ambulance chief executive Sue Killen says: ‘Nothing is more important to us than young people learning how to save a life. We urge everyone to go to the website so MPs see that this campaign has backing in every community.’

Mike Adamson, chief executive at the British Red Cross, said the Bill was ‘a one-off chance to equip a new generation of first-aiders with the skills they need to make a difference’.

Survival rates for cardiac arrests away from hospitals are very low in the UK compared with other countries where CPR is widely taught, according to British Heart Foundation chief executive Simon Gillespie. ‘MPs now have the opportunity to take responsibility for addressing this needless loss of life,’ he says.

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