Let’s insist on the possible by Valerie Douglas

Many things in life are complicated, require great debate and despite huge resources are not guaranteed to be successful in practice. There are other things which are simple to understand, can easily be implemented and immediately make a difference to improve lives or in some cases save lives. You only have to think of the meaningful campaign to change the care of people with a diagnosis of dementia led by Tommy Whitelaw (Tommy Whitelaw @tommyNTour). It makes sense and it hits you in the heart. As a professional you cannot listen to Tommy talk about caring for his mum and withhold your support for this campaign. His mum is your mum.

Another example is Kate Grainger’s inspirational campaign (#hellomynameis). This focuses right in on the doctor/patient relationship. It goes further than just making us think more about face to face contact with patients who may feel vulnerable, distressed and in alien surroundings. It asks us to look at our practice on a basic level, to say our name aloud, on every contact. At one point this patient was Kate Grainger but the patient could be any one of us.

Last November an important, widely supported campaign for the mandatory teaching of Cardiopulminory Resuscitation (CPR) to schoolchildren was unsuccessful. This Emergency Bill was opposed despite irrefutable evidence that it saves lives. In Norway it has been compulsory for schoolchildren to be taught CPR since 1961 and survival rates are double what they are in the UK. As out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is the commonest life-threatening emergency in the UK so I thought this campaign was bound to be fully supported and unchallenged. You can imagine my disappointment.

I felt at a loss about what to do next, yet felt there had to be a ‘next’. To increase survival rates of cardiac arrest the immediate action of bystanders is crucial. Personally I have carried out CPR three times, twice in a hospital setting and once at a family event. A day of laughter and pleasure turned into tragedy. Event though, as a nurse, I’m aware that the outcome from CPR is variable for a myriad of reasons, I was left affected by this last experience. Then a doctor said to me, “If I had a cardiac arrest I would want someone to have a go.” I am glad I have been taught CPR and am able to ‘have a go’, otherwise the most I could have done that night would have been to phone an ambulance instead of giving a friend a chance of life.

What could I do now? I decided to put together a resolution to RCN Congress 2016 calling on governments to mandate the teaching of CPR to schoolchildren (the remit of the Emergency Bill had been wider, encompassing all kinds of First Aid). The resolution was accepted and I presented this in June this year.

There were wide ranging contributions to the debate. Personal stories were shared about children delivering CPR successfully. A delegate told us about a situation where his 27 year old teammate collapsed during a game of football. 23 players including the referee were there and nobody knew how to do CPR; this man died. He went on to describe a more recent experience when an instructor was brought in to teach CPR to the junior football team. Within 10 minutes they were doing it perfectly.
Some delegates expressed concern about the effect on children if they delivered CPR and it was unsuccessful. Others answered this by saying: remove the fear, teach them young. The evidence is there. Someone else highlighted again that encouraging CPR lessons in schools as an add option is not enough; teaching needs to be a requirement so that there is no national disparity. Kate Ashton made a very acute observation at Congress:
“If we can educate youngsters in schools about sex education and creating life then surely we can educate them about saving lives.”

Every year an estimated 60 000 out of hospital cardiac arrests occur in the UK (BMJ 2013;347:f4800) It could happen to any one of us. What can you do?
Write to your local MP and express your support for the campaign to mandate teaching of CPR.
Become a local First Responder.
Find out if your town/village has a defibrillator and where it is kept.
Ask your school if the teaching of CPR is on the curriculum.
Let’s insist on the possible.

Valerie Douglas is a Staff Nurse in Mental Health at Midpark Hospital, NHS Dumfries and Galloway