Things ambulance crews wish you knew

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Every year up to 150,000 people die that could have survived if they'd received first aid.

That's a shocking statistic but one that could be brought right down if more people had the confidence to respond in emergencies. So what do ambulance crews wish you knew?

Don't hang up!

James is a paramedic in a small North West town and says the most important thing to remember is not to end the call: "I suppose people are a bit panicked because they sometimes phone for an ambulance and then hang up the phone.

"But the 999 operator can give pre-arrival advice, like putting the person into recovery position or starting CPR. You need that advice, so stay on the phone."

Know your numbers

Before travelling abroad, know how to contact an ambulance in an emergency. Dialling 112 will connect you to the emergency services anywhere in the European Union.

[Related feature: Take control of your time]

Emergency aid

Don't assume that you can't help in an emergency just because you've never attended or course, or because your skills are a bit rusty. James adds, "If the casualty's life is in danger then it's almost always better to do something than nothing."

Of course, completing some training is ideal and there are plenty of courses you can attend, such as the St John Ambulance classes. There's also a good first aid video you can watch on the NHS website.

If you want advice in your pocket and have an iPhone, St John Ambulance has a free first aid app with images. While you wouldn't necessarily want to be reading that in an emergency, it can help you learn and remember common emergency aid requirements.

What emergency aid advice is easiest to remember and most often useful? Here are a few important elements to remember.

1.) ABC

If you find a casualty then the first thing to do is assess the danger to you — it won't help the ambulance crew to find two victims instead of one. After that, assess the casualty using 'ABC' check their 'Airways' are clear and open, that they are 'Breathing' and, if they aren't, maintain their 'Circulation' with CPR.

2.) FAST

This is a way of assessing if someone's experiencing a stroke. F refers to facial weakness - for example, has their mouth or eye drooped. A is for arm weakness - can the person raise both arms? S is for speech problems and T means it's time to call 999.

3.) Hard and fast

Never practised CPR or worried about giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a stranger? You can do just the chest-compressions by placing the heel of your hand on the breastbone at the centre of the person's chest.

Put your other hand on top and interlock your fingers. Use your body weight and compress their chest straight down by 5-6cm, aiming for 100 a minute. That's about the same as the beats to The Bee Gees' song 'Stayin' Alive'.

When not to call an ambulance

There's one thing that unites paramedics across the country, and that's that too many people take up their time with non-emergencies.

John Fox, a paramedic for more than 30 years and spokesperson for the Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel, says that around 30 per cent of the eight million 999 calls made each year are non urgent and non life-threatening.

"When I was a youngster, you wouldn't dream of calling an ambulance because you'd hurt your back but people do now. They even call with flu symptoms. People go shopping, feel faint, and call an ambulance. With paperwork, that can take us off the road for two hours."

When you should always call an ambulance

So what kind of injuries should people always dial 999 for? "Never hesitate to call an ambulance for a football injury or rugby injury like a broken leg, or acute breathing difficulties, stroke symptoms, trauma symptoms, diabetes emergencies and the first time someone passes out. These are all emergencies."

The NHS adds chest pain, fitting, severe allergic reactions, burns and scalds to that list, and urges people to use their common sense: "Always call 999 if someone is seriously ill or injured, and their life is at risk."

Have you ever called an ambulance? Do you think the public know enough first aid or should more be done to raise awareness?