It’s been three years since I joined St John Ambulance, so this week I was dispatched to the wilds of North London on my day off for a refresher first aid course. People imagine that as a Johnny you are treating casualties all the time, but it’s not actually like that. A lot of it is standing around in the rain watching rubbish football teams waiting for something to happen, and when something does happen, all the Johnnies swoop like vultures on the poor patient and fight over who he is going to treat him or her. It can get very silly. Anyway, as a result our first aid gets a bit rusty and we have to requalify every three years to prove we still know what we are doing. The course is called First Aid at Work and as the name suggests, it is intended for people who are the appointed first aider in their workplace. I was the only one on the course doing it for another reason.
The St John first aid course was largely very good. Our instructor was very knowledgeable and my sling making improved immeasurably during the course. There was one thing about the course that was absolutely terrible, though, and that was the instructions about calling for ambulances. My initial first aid qualification was done before I got the job with the LAS, so I didn’t pick up on this before. It seems to me that St John and the ambulance service have never, ever got together and talked about this.
Things I didn’t like:
* There was no discussion whatsoever of when you should call an ambulance, and sending a bystander to call an ambulance was part of every scenario, even nosebleeds and cut hands! The trainer did explain that she wanted to get everyone into the habit of sending for help at the correct point (after you know what the problem is, and she did make a point of getting us to tell the bystander why we needed an ambulance, which is something) so I might just let her off this one.
* The trainer told us that you would never have to wait more than 15 minutes for an ambulance! I almost fell off my chair laughing and felt at this point I had to butt in. The trainer also did not know that 999 calls were prioritised or that we could respond with a call back from Telephone Advice for green calls – she had thought that the differing response times depended on the area you lived in.
* In every scenario, a bystander was sent away to call an ambulance. You should never send someone away to call an ambulance unless it’s absolutely necessary (you have no phone, or you need to find a landline to call from because you don’t know where you are and you need the call to be traceable). All the scenarios happened in the workplace, where the bystander would almost certainly have been able to ring whilst standing next to the patient.
* The bystander was always asked to find how long the ambulance will take. The ambulance service are not allowed to give you this information.
* The trainer did not seem to know what information the ambulance service would ask for. In fact, there was nothing about them asking questions at all, it was all “you must tell them this, this and this”. Nothing gets our back up faster than callers who start giving you information, some of it relevant, some of it not, without letting you get a word in edgeways. According to our assessor, the most important information you need to give (after “what’s wrong”) is what position you’ve left the casualty in and what your name is and that you are a first aider. This is not right!
* Absolutely no mention of getting a good location to give to the ambulance service, which really is the clincher in my book.
I am not blaming our trainer for this – St John people rarely have to call 999 as they usually have their own ambulance on duties, so I guess they just don’t know how the system works. I do think St John and the ambulance service should have got their heads together on this one though. I know it’s a first aid course and not a dialling 999 course, but it would only take five minutes to give a few pointers on ambulance calling which would make life so much easier for us and the first aiders, and there is certainly no excuse for giving people information that is actually wrong (“send someone off to call and find out how long it will be”).
I hope they’ve fixed it by the time my next requalification is due, or I will not be very impressed!