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First aid: basic advice

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Some basic first aid knowledge will help you know what to do in a medical emergency. Reacting quickly can help save a life

Phoning for help

Many countries’ public phone networks have a single number for all emergency services. It's usually three digits so it can be dialled quickly. Find out the number before you travel.

It's 999 in the UK, 911 in the US, and 112 on fixed-line phones within the EU.

The international emergency number for GSM mobile phone networks is 112. 

Basic first aid

Stay safe
If there's been an accident, check that you're safe and that there is no further danger to the victim or anyone nearby. Don’t move the victim unless they're in immediate danger (i.e. not breathing).

Get help
If the person is seriously injured, seek emergency assistance first. Dial emergency services, or ask a bystander to call. 

Check for unconsciousness
Make sure the injured person can breathe properly. Gently shake the person’s shoulders and shout, “Can you hear me?” If they don’t respond, follow the ABC sequence:

  • Airway
    Place one hand on the victim’s forehead and gently tilt their head back. Check their mouth for obstructions and lift their chin using two fingers only.
  • Breathing
    Look to see if the chest is rising and falling, listen for breathing and feel for breath against your cheek. If they aren’t breathing, give two rescue breaths.
  • Circulation
    Spend 10 seconds checking for signs of blood circulation, including movement of their eyes, attempts to swallow, and the colour of their skin and lips. If there is no breathing and no sign of life, they may have had a heart attack and need heart compression. If there are signs of life but they're not breathing, give the kiss of life. 

Control severe bleeding
Without sufficient blood, our brains don’t get the oxygen they need. To control external bleeding, first apply immediate, direct and firm pressure to the wound and elevate it above the heart, then wrap firmly with a dressing. Try to keep the injury elevated and keep it at rest as this helps to stop bleeding. Internal bleeding always requires urgent surgical attention: call an ambulance.

Look out for shock
The signs of shock include: disorientation; restlessness; trembling; pale, bluish-tinged, cool or clammy skin; fast and shallow breathing; and a reduced level of consciousness. Call emergency services or get someone else to do so and follow the ABC sequence above. It's important that the victim makes the best use of their blood supply. For this reason, do not pile blankets on the injured person: one is enough. If you can, raise the victim’s legs. Do not give anything to the victim by mouth.

Stay cool
It may sound simple, but panic won’t help the victim and could make their condition worse. So what can you do? Reassure the victim. Ask their name and tell them yours, and tell them you are going to get help. Don’t give them anything to eat or drink. 

Know the recovery position
What can you do if the victim is unconscious but still breathing and has a pulse? Turn them on their side, lift the chin forward to keep their airway open and place their hand under their cheek. This is known as the recovery position.

All advice provided by St John Ambulance.

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