Fewer than one in ten of the general public have the skills to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), new research from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) reveals.
The charity is calling on people to make 2007 the year they learn how to save a life, by signing up to one of the BHF's free Heartstart UK courses in their area.
A poll of more than 6,000 adults conducted for the BHF shows that around a quarter of the UK population have received CPR training in the last five years. But when healthcare professionals and others who have received training as part of their job are discounted, the research shows just 9% of the general public have been trained voluntarily.
In some parts of the UK the problem is particularly concerning – fewer than 7% of people in Yorkshire and Humber, the North East and the North West of England and just 4% in Northern Ireland, have been trained voluntarily in CPR – all of which are areas where heart disease rates are higher than the UK average.
The main reasons given for not having received CPR training are a lack of awareness about CPR (17%), not knowing where to go for training (15%), or a belief that they will never need to use it (14%).
Katharine Peel, head of Emergency Life Support at the BHF, says: "Coronary heart disease is the UK's single biggest killer, with someone suffering a heart attack every two minutes, so this is a problem none of us can afford to ignore.
"About a third of heart attack victims die before reaching hospital because they go into cardiac arrest. Performing CPR can buy vital extra minutes and keep them alive until paramedics or a community responder arrives.
"The tragic thing is that most cardiac arrests happen at home, so if you are ever with someone who needs CPR, it's quite likely to be a family member or loved one. Learning CPR and other lifesaving skills through the BHF's Heartstart UK initiative takes just two hours – but they could be the most valuable two hours you spend in 2007."
The BHF is also calling for emergency life support training to be made a standard part of every child's education across the UK, including being added to the National Curriculum in England, to ensure an entire generation of children are exposed to vital lifesaving skills such as CPR.
The charity is promoting Heartstart UK courses as part of its "Doubt Kills" campaign – which aims to improve survival from heart attacks by encouraging people to call 999 immediately if they experience chest pain or other heart attack symptoms.
Katharine Peel adds: "The more people we can teach emergency life support skills, the more people will be aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. This in turn will hopefully mean people will react quicker if they or a family member suffer chest pain or other heart attack symptoms."
The campaign and the appeal for Heartstart UK trainees are being backed by politicians from across the country. More than 120 MPs attended an event at the House of Commons on 16 January, where some took part in a Heartstart UK course.
Rosie Winterton, Minister of State for Health Services, and Caroline Flint, public health minister, were among those supporting the initiative. Rosie Winterton said: "For people suffering a heart attack, the right treatment can mean the difference between living and dying. I am delighted the BHF are raising awareness about the symptoms of heart attack, and encouraging people to dial 999.
"It also makes sense for as many of the population as possible to be armed with the simple skills to save a life, and one of the best ways to do this is through a Heartstart UK course.
"This is an important public health campaign which I hope will help to save many lives."
For more information, and to find a course in your area, visit bhf.org.uk/heartstart or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you do not have email or internet access, call 020 7487 7115.
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