Red Cross offers some timely advice on first aid

Jock McGowan demonstrates with his Red Cross colleague Judith Kerr what action to take when someone chokes

HOLIDAYS beckon, which means children around the house and garden, flying off to foreign countries or day trips to the seaside. Idyllic, a time to relax and enjoy. But what happens when one of the little darlings falls out of a tree or someone chokes on a sweet or a wasp takes a liking to a glass of coke and delivers a sting in the mouth?

It's time to think First Aid, and here are some pointers:

:: Be prepared and ready to take immediate action until qualified help arrives.

To get some advice, I visited the Belfast headquarters of the Red Cross. There I met Jock McGowan, Red Cross educator for Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, one of those rare people who talks in pictures. What he says sticks in the mind, one reason he's so popular when he goes out and about to educate organisations.

“Often people are afraid to take action, thinking of litigation, but there's never been a successful litigation against someone for giving first aid. I want to build confidence so people will take the initiative in an emergency.”

Jock gave me a few basic tips for common accidents, but points out, always consult a doctor, a pharmacist or hospital if it's serious.

:: Poison in the home and the garden.

“An ever present threat. If a child drinks bleach, for instance, dial 999 then try to find out how much they drank and when they took it. In the garden, laburnum seeds are very poisonous, so make sure you know what's been swallowed, get a pod of seeds or part of whatever plant is involved to hand over to the ambulance man.

:: One reaction to a cut might be to squeeze the edges of the wound together.

“It's better to get a clean tea towel or hankie and apply pressure on the cut until the bleeding stops. If the wound is bleeding heavily, call 999, apply pressure and keep going until help arrives.

“If something is stuck in the skin, like a nail, don't remove it – it's helping plug the hole! Call 999, apply pressure around the object and wait for help to arrive.”

With overcrowding in A&E and surgeries, there's a realisation that first aid is important. To this end the Red Cross worked with Queen's University Belfast, the first university in Europe to have timetabled first aid training for first year medical and dental students.

They have also championed defibrillators in public areas, sports clubs, schools, even telephone boxes. Working with BT and local communities, they've negotiated the ‘adoption' of a seldom-used phone box and fitted a defibrillator inside. A 999 phone call will give the code to open up the box and the operator can help talk through the procedure.

:: If someone collapses.

“If they are unresponsive and not breathing, we need to keep the blood pumping around the body to keep the vital organs alive. Swift action is essential. Call 999 and then start chest compressions. A defibrillator may be able to restart the heart so that the blood will be circulated again. Send someone to get the defibrillator, open it and follow the voice prompts. They may look complicated but they are easy to use – they'll talk you through exactly what to do.”

:: Burns can be treated with cold liquid being poured over the area.

Cold, running water is best but if you don't have immediate access to this, beer or coke can be used to start the cooling process. Try to keep cooling it with the cold liquid for at least 10 minutes. With the bonfire season on our doorstep, this is useful to know.

:: Never burst a blister.

“It's nature's way of healing, of protecting the new skin as it forms and preventing infection.”

:: What about a break or strain?

“If someone has broken a bone, help them to keep the injury still and supported. A break can only be fixed in hospital so call 999 if necessary. You can use everyday items like clothing to support the injury, for example, just open a button of the shirt or blouse and put the arm in and this will take the weight off.

"For a strain or sprain apply an ice pack, or something that will do that job, for example a pack of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth, then rest the injury. If there's no improvement, seek medical advice.”

:: Choking is one of the questions Jock is often asked.

He explained that if the throat or airway is blocked and the person can't take a breath or speak, it's an emergency.

“Hit them hard between the shoulder blades. Keep striking until the item is dislodged. Get someone to call 999 if necessary. I had to do this recently to a friend and he told me he had bruises on his back for a week but he loved every one of them!”

:: Swallowing a wasp

“Thankfully very rare. But if a person has been stung in the mouth there's a risk that the resulting swelling could block their airway. Give them an ice cube to suck or a glass of cold water to sip and dial 999 if swelling starts to develop.

Much more likely is a sting from a bee or wasp on the skin. These are usually painful rather than dangerous. If the sting is visible on the skin, use the edge of a credit card to scrape it away. Apply an ice pack. Watch for signs of a severe allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing, a rash, itchiness or swelling on their hands, feet or face. Call 999 if they show signs of a severe allergic reaction.”

A first aid box is important but best of all is to sign up for a First Aid course, the Red Cross team will help find the right one for you. There's also a pack which everyone should have. It gives basic advice and easy instructions to follow.

:: For information visit and click on Where We Work.


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