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Chest compressions only can be the difference 

Giving chest compressions

Untrained members of the public can increase the chances of survival for cardiac arrest victims by carrying out chest compressions, to pump oxygen around the body, without doing mouth to mouth resuscitation. This is according to the UK body that sets the guidance, Resuscitation Council UK.

All members of the public should also be encouraged to use an AED (automated external defibrillator) – a machine that may restart the heart – on cardiac arrest patients when, previously, training was needed. St John Ambulance has developed an online guide for those who would like more information on how to do chest compressions and use an AED.

The problem

Resuscitation Council (UK) says that an estimated 30,000 people each year have cardiac arrests outside of hospital in the UK yet currently only one third receive CPR from a bystander. Research shows that a patient's chance of surviving is doubled if bystanders perform CPR.


It is believed that having to give rescue breaths can put bystanders off giving CPR to cardiac arrest victims. The good news is that if you are unwilling, unable – or, now, untrained – then Resuscitation Council says that chest compressions are better than nothing. The compressions pump already oxygenated blood around the body to the vital organs. The emergency services should also be called.

This is a great step forward in ensuring that more people are the difference between lives lost and lives saved.

Meng Aw-Yong
Medical Advisor, St John Ambulance

The new resuscitation guidelines go on to state that those members of the public who are trained in delivering rescue breaths should continue to do so. This is the method of choice for those who know what to do, as chest compressions are only effective for a limited time. St John Ambulance encourages as many people as possible to receive training.

The difference between life and death

Meng Aw-Yong, Medical Adviser at St John Ambulance, said: 'Every year thousands of people die of cardiac arrest when first aid could have helped them live.

'These changes are effectively saying that people who are untrained should have a go at doing chest compressions because something is better than nothing and they could be buying time for someone who desperately needs it.

'Encouraging untrained members of the public to do chest compressions, as well as using an AED to try and restart the heart, could have a dramatic effect on the numbers surviving cardiac arrest.

'The best option is still full CPR with rescue breaths and we encourage more people to be trained to deliver this.'

Download our PDF - Resuscitation techniques for untrained bystanders - for more information on chest compressions and how to use an AED.