22 October, 2020: New research has revealed that a third of UK adults don’t know if, during the COVID-19 pandemic, CPR should only be carried out by professionals wearing PPE.

The organisations behind this year’s Restart a Heart Day (16 October) - Resuscitation Council UK, St John Ambulance, the British Heart Foundation, British Red Cross, and Yorkshire Ambulance Service, as well as all UK ambulance services - are concerned this could result in people waiting instead of taking action, putting thousands of lives at risk.

They are urging the public to ‘get hands on’ and act immediately by performing hands-only CPR when someone has collapsed and stopped breathing.

Restart A Heart Day

With 80% of out of hospital sudden cardiac arrests occurring in the home and with a person’s chance of surviving a cardiac arrest reducing by 10% for every minute without CPR, the clear message on Restart A Heart Day is to learn CPR and have the confidence to use it.

This year, there is also an emphasis on learning and teaching CPR using updated guidance which reduces the risk of COVID-19 transmission. With early reports showing the chance of survival may have decreased in many countries because fewer bystanders are helping in an emergency, it is essential the UK public take the time to learn CPR skills using the updated guidance.

These CPR skills can be learned on and around 16 October through the FREE digital resources available at www.resus.org.uk/rsah and by participating in digital training events across the country. People can also follow the conversation online at #RestartAHeart. 

The new guidance, issued early in the pandemic by Resuscitation Council UK, sets out how to do CPR with reduced risk to the bystander and without negatively impacting the collapsed person’s chances of survival.

The key changes are loosely laying a face covering, such as a mask, cloth, towel or item of clothing, over the mouth and nose of the person who has collapsed and to do hands-only CPR (no mouth-to-mouth rescue breaths).

Here are the steps you should take if you witness a cardiac arrest during COVID-19:

  1. If you see someone has collapsed and is not breathing or not breathing normally, do not put your face next to theirs when checking for breathing. Instead, check for signs of breathing by looking to see if their chest is moving.
  2. Call 999.
  3. Lay a face covering, such as a mask, a cloth, towel or piece of clothing loosely over the mouth and nose of the person who has collapsed (i.e. do not seal the mouth and nose)
  4. Do not do mouth to mouth rescue breaths
  5. Start chest compressions by pressing hard on the chest two times per second – you can keep your time by following the beat of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ or ‘Baby Shark’.
  6. Use a public access defibrillator if one is available

One person who knows only too well how vital bystander CPR can be is Steve Morris, 65, from East Grinstead in West Sussex. His own life was saved by gym staff when he collapsed while exercising in February 2015.

He said: “I was just doing my usual workout, with the sprint finish on the treadmill, when suddenly I felt sick deep in my stomach. I then collapsed and went into cardiac arrest.”

Steve doesn’t remember what happened next, but two members of staff at the gym, one of whom was a defibrillator trainer at the venue, performed CPR and gave him one shock with the gym’s Automated External Defibrillator, re-establishing Steve’s heartbeat.

Five years on and Steve is thankful to be alive thanks to the actions of those two strangers. The former St John Ambulance Community First Responder now teaches people lifesaving first aid skills, such as CPR, and campaigns for defibrillators to be available in the community.

He added: “Without the intervention of bystanders, I wouldn’t be here today. I understand people’s concerns about COVID-19, but cardiac arrests won’t just go away during this pandemic – they still happen and if people don’t step in to act immediately, that person’s chance of survival reduces rapidly with every single minute which passes. I implore people to have a go; by learning some really simple CPR skills, while keeping yourself save, you can save a life, like mine.”

Dr Andrew Lockey, consultant in emergency medicine and co-lead for World Restart a Heart Day, Resuscitation Council UK, said: "Now, more than ever before, friends and family are dying unnecessarily from sudden cardiac arrest. Worries about COVID-19 should not deter anyone from doing the right thing in an emergency. The principle message for Restart a Heart is that you can still save a life, whilst keeping yourself safe.

“If you are uncertain what to do, visit resus.org.uk for further guidance or learn CPR online by playing RCUK’s interactive training game, Lifesaver. Don't be afraid to get hands on and save a life!"

Martin Houghton-Brown, CEO, St John Ambulance said: “Normally, our highly skilled St John people would be providing CPR demonstrations to communities across the country for Restart a Heart Day; we’re hugely disappointed that the pandemic has prevented this face-to-face interaction this year. Instead, I’d urge people to get ‘hands on’ and learn the safe and effective way to do CPR from the comfort of their own home. Most of us have had to meet our friends and family online, go to work or university online, now it’s time to learn CPR online. We think more people could learn this year than ever before so please do join in and share with all of your friends.”