First aid volunteers at football

Two out of three people couldn’t save a life

The majority of us don’t feel we could save a life in an emergency, with a quarter saying we’d helplessly do nothing while a life is on the line. And those of us who would attempt first aid, our efforts are likely to be in vain as in many cases we would administer the wrong procedure.

Leading first aid charity St John Ambulance commissioned the research* to determine how many people could be the difference between a life lost and a life saved.

Key results show that:

  • Nearly two-thirds (59%) wouldn’t feel confident trying to save a life
  • A quarter (24%) would do nothing and wait for an ambulance to arrive or hope that a passer-by knows first aid
  • Around a third (39%) would try and do first aid even though they are not sure what to do
  • Just over a quarter (28%) say they’d know what first aid to do – but sadly their confidence is misplaced, as the survey results show many would do the wrong thing and may even make the situation worse.

Armed with this knowledge we can all be the difference between a life lost and a life saved

Sue Killen
CEO, St John Ambulance
Be the difference

The charity is launching a hard-hitting campaign depicting 5 common scenarios** in which first aid could have been the difference between a life lost and a life saved. It is offering a free pocket-sized guide featuring first aid skills that can help in these life-threatening situations. The public are also encouraged to donate to the charity to help others become ‘the difference’.

Sue Killen, CEO, St John Ambulance comments: ‘We believe that anyone who needs first aid should receive it and yet, as our latest research shows, that’s not happening. This highlights that we can’t rely on other people to have the skills - everyone should take the responsibility to learn first aid themselves. Armed with this knowledge we can all be the difference between a life lost and a life saved.’

Time lost equals lives lost

An ambulance responding to a call for a life-threatening situation can take up to 8 minutes to arrive but a friend or loved one can die from any of the 5 conditions, and many others, in this time. Knowing this, it’s clear that first aid can make the difference between life and death.

While the majority of us (98%) agree that first aid saves lives, worrying numbers wouldn’t have the correct basic knowledge to do this if confronted with a common emergency.

If faced with a man thrown off his motorbike and not breathing, over two-fifths (42%) wrongly say they’d know what to do. However, of these people, 43% would make the mistake of not moving him for fear of spinal injury, yet if he’s not breathing and CPR*** is not given, he’ll die.

Other scenarios showed people who thought they knew what to do didn’t always get it right:

If someone was choking, only half (53%) would intervene with back blows – the correct procedure. Worryingly 1 in 10 (9%) would stick their fingers down his or her throat which could push the obstruction further down

For a middle-aged man with chest pains, 1 in 10 (9%) would put him in the recovery position, while waiting for an ambulance, which would not relieve the strain on the heart and may aggravate the condition. Instead they should sit him in a comfortable position.

Hitting home

When queried on what would motivate people to learn first aid, half of us (50%) cited the fear of emergency services not arriving on time, as well as being a witness to an accident. Interestingly, 64% of us felt that a loved one being in an emergency would give us the impetus to equip ourselves with first aid skills. Unfortunately for many people, by the time they realise this, it’s too late to assist those needing it.

Act now

St John Ambulance is committed to ensuring everyone has the basic first aid knowledge that could save someone's life. To get your free pocket sized guide, just text LIFE to 85010 or click here for more information on the campaign. You can also get advice on your iPhone with the St John Ambulance first aid app, available through iTunes.

*Research conducted by ICM, February 2010, using a weighted sample of 2045 adults aged 18+. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at

**The five common scenarios tackled in the adverts and in the free first aid guide are: Choking, heart attack, severe bleeding, unconscious person who is breathing and one who is not breathing.

*** CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation – chest compressions and rescue breaths.

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