Better first aid awareness could reduce A & E pressures

The pressure on over-stretched hospital A&E departments regularly makes the news these days. But according to the British Red Cross, improving first aid education could make life easier for A&E staff as well as hospital patients.

The charity’s survey – which was carried out by researchers at the University of West of England (UWE Bristol) and the University of Bristol – found the most common reasons people go to A&E are pain, falls and other types of accidents that result in minor injuries, as well as having a child with a fever.

More than a third of those who took part in the survey said they went to A&E because they were worried and didn’t know what to do. The survey also revealed people often have difficulties assessing the severity of health problems, and they’re not sure where they should get help. More than half of those who were surveyed said they asked others – either someone at their GP’s surgery or a family member – for advice before going to A&E, and admitted they found it difficult to know whether a health problem was severe enough to need urgent care.

The study also interviewed healthcare professionals, who identified the seven types of patients who typically use A&E frequently, including:

  • People with long-term health conditions
  • Parents with young children
  • Older people, especially those who are frail or have multiple health needs
  • People who use substances
  • People referred to A&E by their employer or a first-aider at work
  • People receiving health and social care at home or in community settings
  • People with self-limiting infections and minor injuries

Lost first aid skills

The healthcare workers interviewed for the study suggested first aid is a ‘lost skill’, and that most people don’t attempt it before coming to hospital. Things you could do to help yourself, the healthcare workers suggest, including taking simple medicines to reduce pain or fever.

“Clearer public information and first aid education could help people access the right type of care at the right point in time – which could ease some of the pressure on A&E, and reduce patient suffering,” says Joe Mulligan, British Red Cross head of first aid education.

“What’s worrying is that there is a lot of confusion, with many people unsure how to correctly assess their health issue and unable to navigate the health system accordingly. The research shows that patients are seeking advice before attending A&E, highlighting how difficult it is for people to work out which service best suits their needs.

“Ultimately we would like everyone to have the opportunity to learn first aid at key stages throughout their lives, starting at school. This would help to equip a generation of people with the first aid skills they need to help in an emergency.”

Find out how you can improve your first aid skills at And don’t forget, you can also ask your local pharmacist for advice if you’re not sure whether a health problem should have professional attention. Your local Careway pharmacist can also provide you with many of the items you need to treat minor injuries and other conditions – all without a prescription.

Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.