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First aid is the provision of limited care for an illness or injury, which is provided, usually by a lay person, to a sick or injured patient until definitive medical treatment can be accessed, or until the illness or injury is dealt with (as not all illnesses or injuries will require a higher level of treatment). It generally consists of series of simple, sometimes life saving, medical techniques, that an individual, either with or without formal medical training, can be trained to perform with minimal equipment.First aid can also be performed on animals, although this article refers specifically to human first aid.
History The Knights Hospitaller were probably the first to specialize in battlefield care for the wounded. Similarly, knights founded the Order of St. John in the 11th century to train other knights specifically how to treat common battlefield injuries.First Aid: From Witchdoctors & Religious Knights to Modern Doctors, retrieved December 10, 2006. St. John Ambulance was formed in 1877 to teach first aid (a term devised by the order) in large railway centres and mining districts. The order and its training began to spread throughout the British Empire and Europe.Industrial Revolution: St. John Ambulance, retrieved December 10, 2006. As well, in 1859 Henry Dunant helped organize villagers in Switzerland to help victims of the Battle of Solferino. Four years later, four nations met in Geneva and formed the organization which has grown into the Red Cross. Developments in first aid and many other medical techniques have been fueled in large by wars: the American Civil War prompted Clara Barton to organize the American Red Cross.American Red Cross -- Museum, retrieved December 10, 2006. Today, there are several groups that promote first aid, such as the military and the Scouting movement. New techniques and equipment have helped make today’s first aid simple and effective.
Aims The 3 main aims of first aid, commonly referred to as the “3 Ps” are:
Training Much of first aid is common sense, and people are almost certain to learn some elements as they go through their life (such as knowing to apply an adhesive bandage to a small cut on a finger).However, effective life-saving first aid requires hands-on training by experts, especially where it relates to potentially fatal illnesses and injuries, such as those that require Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), as the procedures may be invasive, and carry a risk of further injury to the patient - which the ‘3 aims’ of first aid above, clearly try to avoid.As with any training, it is more useful if it occurs before an actual emergency, although in many countries, emergency ambulance dispatchers will give basic first aid instructions over the phone while the ambulance is on its way.To be adequately trained, a person must attend a course (hopefully leading to a qualification recognised in their country), but then, due to regular changes in procedures and protocols, based on updated clinical knowledge, must attend regular refresher courses or re-certification in order to ensure they are doing the best for their patient (and in some countries, to minimise the chance of being held liable for further injury or deterioration).Training in first aid is often available through community organizations such as the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance, or through commercial providers, who will train people for a fee. This commercial training is most common for training of employees to perform first aid in their workplace. Many community organisations, such as the ones above, also provide a commercial service, which complements their community programmes.
Key First Aid Skills There are certain skills which can be regarded as core, regardless of where or how first aid is taught. First aiders are taught to focus on the "ABC"s of first aid before giving additional treatment:
Preserving LifeAs the key skill to first aid is preserving life, the single most important training a first aider can receive is in the primary diagnosis and care of an unconscious or unresponsive patient. The most common mnemonic used to remember the procedure for this is ABC, which stands for Airway, Breathing and Circulation.In order to preserve life, all persons require to have an open airway - a clear passage where air can move in through the mouth or nose through the pharynx and down in to the lungs, without obstruction. Conscious people will maintain their own airway automatically, but those who are unconscious (with a GCS of less than 8) may be unable to maintain a patent airway, as the part of the brain which autonomously controls in normal situations may not be functioning.If an unconscious patient is lying on his or her back, the tongue may fall backward, obstructing the oropharynx (sometimes incorrectly called “swallowing” the tongue). This can be easily rectified by a first aider tipping the head backwards, which mechanically lifts the tongue clear.St. John Ambulance (2006). First Aid Training:First on the Scene. Student Reference Guide Activity book. St. John Ambulance. page 23-7. ISBN 1-894070-56-9If the patient was breathing, a first aider would normally then place them in the recovery position, with the patient leant over on their side, which also has the effect of clearing the tongue from the pharynx. It also avoids a common cause of death in unconscious patients, which is choking on regurgitated stomach contents.The airway can also become blocked through a foreign object becoming lodged in the pharynx or larynx, commonly called choking. The first aider will be taught to deal with this through a combination of ‘back slaps’ and ‘abdominal thrusts’.Once the airway has been opened, the first aider would assess to see if the patient is breathing. If there is no breathing, or the patient is not breathing normally, such as agonal breathing, the first aider would undertake what is probably the most recognised first aid procedure - Cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR, which involves breathing for the patient, and manually massaging the heart to promote blood flow around the body.
Promoting RecoveryThe first aider is also likely to be trained in dealing with injuries such as cuts, grazes or broken bones. They may be able to deal with the situation in its entirety (a small adhesive bandage on a paper cut), or may be required to maintain the condition of something like a broken bone, until the next stage of definitive care (usually an ambulance) arrives.
First Aid symbols Although commonly associated with first aid, the symbol of a red cross is an official protective symbol of the Red Cross. According to the Geneva Conventions and other international law, the use of this and similar symbols is reserved for official agencies of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, and as a protective emblem for medical personnel and facilities in combat situations. Use by any other person or organization is illegal, and may lead to prosecution.The internationally accepted symbol for first aid is the white cross on a green background shown at the start of the page.Some organizations may make use the Star of Life, although this is usually reserved for use by Ambulance services, or symbols such as the Maltese Cross such as the Order of Malta Ambulance Corps and St John Ambulance, or other symbols.
First Aid training around the world
AustraliaIn Australia, Nationally recognised First Aid certificates may only be issued by Registered training organisations who are accredited on the National Training Information System (NTIS). Most First Aid certificates are issued at one of 3 levels:
CanadaIn Canada, first aid certificates are awarded by one of several organizations including the Red Cross, the Lifesaving Society, St. John Ambulance, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Ski Patrol. Workplace safety regulations vary depending on occupation. Many workplaces opt to have their employees trained in Standard First Aid (see below).
IrelandIn Ireland, the workplace qualification is the Occupational First Aid Certificate. The Health and Safety Authority issue the standards for first aid at work and hold a register of qualified instructors, examiners and organisations that can provide the course. The certificate is awarded after a three day course and is valid for three years from date of issue. Organisations offering the certificate include, Irelands largest first aid organisation, the Civil Defence, the St John Ambulance Brigade, Irish Red Cross and Order of Malta Ambulance Corps. The Irish Red Cross also provides a Practical First Aid Course aimed at the general public dealing primarily with family members getting injured.
United KingdomIn the United Kingdom, there are two main types of first aid courses offered. An “Emergency Aid for Appointed Persons” course typically lasts one day, and covers the basics, focusing on critical interventions for conditions such as cardiac arrest and severe bleeding, and is usually not formally assessed. A “First Aid at Work” course is usually a four-day course (two days for a re-qualification) that covers the full spectrum of first aid, and is formally assessed by recognised Health and Safety Executive assessors. Certificates for the “First Aid at Work” course are issued by the training organisation and are valid for a period of three years from the date the delegate passes the course. Other courses offered by training organisations such as St. John Ambulance, St. Andrew’s Ambulance Association or the British Red Cross include Baby & Child Courses, manual handling, people moving, and courses geared towards more advanced life support, such as defibrillation and administration of medical gases such as oxygen & entonox).
Specific first aid disciplines There are several types of first aid (and first aider) which require specific additional training. These are usually undertaken to fulfill the demands of the work or activity undertaken.
Conditions that often require first aid Also see medical emergency.
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