Every autumn, universities up and down the country open their doors to new students excited by the thought of independent living. The first challenge is that of settling in – the second, for many, will be surviving Freshers’ week. This can be a time of great fun, traditionally including partying, drinking and late nights. It can also, however, be a time of great risk, with young people left drunk, sick, or exhausted after long nights out on the town, at their most vulnerable and often a long way from home. Usually a sympathetic friend steps forward to sit with them or call a taxi, and after a while the effects wear off. But sometimes the situation becomes serious and young people can find themselves out of their depth. So what can be done to ensure that the fun stays harmless and that students stay safe?
Aside from the freebies and booze, Freshers’ Week is not just about meeting new people and discovering a new city – it can be a great opportunity to learn new skills. As the standard university programme includes workshops on finance and consent, why not a session in basic first aid? Something as simple as opening the airway of an unconscious person can save their life. Applying pressure to a wound can stem major bleeding and buy precious time. First aid is such a simple skill, but it has an incredible impact – even just the confidence that comes with knowing what to do can make a difficult situation more manageable. As a fresher myself I remember one of my peers cutting themselves on a sharp knife in the kitchen whilst making dinner. Luckily, as a member of St John Ambulance, I knew what to do and could provide effective treatment whilst reassuring them and those around them. This only goes to prove that accidents can happen anywhere, at any time, and affect anyone. Learning first aid makes the world a safer place for us all.
Freshers have workshops on finance and consent – why not a session in basic first aid?
By providing workshops in Freshers’ weeks and bringing first aid into schools just think how many people could be reached, how many lives could be changed and saved. This is why on Sunday 4th October I attended the annual Conservative party conference in Birmingham on behalf of St John Ambulance, lobbying ministers to support an education in first aid for all. Whilst some MPs, notably Neil Carmichael and Edward Timpson, lent their support to the cause, the audience at our panel event was comparatively small, with the majority of members already involved with first aid in some way. This suggested a general reluctance on behalf of the government to commit to providing such an education. Last year, delegates to the British Youth Council from its member organisations voted to make SJA’s motion on education in first aid one of the council’s top five priorities for the period 2015-2020, and have accordingly been lobbying ever since. However, the subsequent lukewarm enthusiasm of the current government is doubly concerning to young people– not only are we being denied access to skills which can saves lives, but this attitude raises doubts as to how seriously the establishment is listening to our voice. We aren’t asking for the government to dictate to universities and schools, or for a radical reform of the education system. We are asking for our country to invest in us and our futures and to listen to our voice.
If learning first aid instils confidence and helps others then who loses? Currently only one in ten people has the skills necessary to save a life, and so too many people die each year in situations where first aid could have helped save their lives. This could be changed through a short workshop, an hour watching the Big First Aid lesson, or weekly lessons in schools. So what will it take for the government to commit to providing an education in first aid for all and protect the people it represents? What is the price to pay for a life?