Pupils to train as mini-paramedics

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SCHOOLCHILDREN IN the west of Scotland are to be trained in resuscitation techniques in a pioneering attempt to cut the death rate from heart attacks.

The scheme, the first of its kind in Britain, follows a similar initiative in the US city of Seattle, where all citizens are trained in life-saving skills, cutting death rates sharply.

Nearly 900 people died from heart attacks in the Inverclyde area in 1997, one of the highest rates in Scotland. Doctors believe that many could have been saved if those near by had been trained in how to keep the patient alive until the ambulance arrived. In future, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation will be made part of the school curriculum for primary and secondary classes, in a joint initiative by the local education and health boards.

The skills will be included in environmental studies or taught in personal and social education. There will also be training for children under five and those with special needs in how to get help if someone collapses in front of them. This will include training in how to telephone for an ambulance. The campaign is funded by the British Heart Foundation, which has donated mannequins and training equipment for the children, as part of a national campaign to raise the public's life-saving skills.

Dr John Bryden, a consultant in public health medicine at Argyll and Clyde Health Board, said: "Scotland has one of the highest death rates from heart attacks in the world. Almost half of these deaths occur before the person reaches hospital or an ambulance arrives, but if a trained bystander can give emergency life support then there is a fair chance that a person collapsing with a heart attack may survive until medical help is available." Dr Bryden said that the training, which takes two hours, includes dealing with an unconscious person who is breathing, resuscitating by chest compression, dealing with choking and giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Resuscitation can be quite arduous. The first-aider administers two kisses of life, then 15 chest compressions, pressing down with straight arms at a rate of one a second.

Because of these physical demands, only secondary and older primary school pupils will be taught this technique. The Scottish scheme is part of an initiative intended to educate all local people in paramedical skills. So far in the west of Scotland, more than 3,500 people have been taught how to use emergency life-support techniques.

Throughout the country, schemes have also been introduced to make mobile defibrillators available at special points in city centres, so that a collapsed person can be revived if an ambulance is slow to arrive. In Britain, heart attacks are the most common cause of death, killing 600 people every day.

Guidelines from the Health and Safety Executive require that employers should ensure that there is one first-aider for every 50 employees.