Life-saving Skills in Schools

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 2:17 pm on 22nd November 2012.

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Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Defence) 2:17 pm, 22nd November 2012

I cannot tell you how important I think this debate is, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate Anne Marie Morris on securing it. I also congratulate the hon. Members who have spoken—with a great deal of knowledge and personal experience—about how important this issue is. The hon. Lady made an excellent speech, touching on all the key issues, and asked most of the key questions.

I will speak from personal experience. I qualified as a lifeguard in the mid-1990s. I did it to support my daughters, who were in a swimming club that needed voluntary lifeguards. I trained every two years and did the exam. During that process my children trained with me—we used to practise the various required skills on the front room floor. I was fortunate that there were no major incidents in the pool during the almost 10 years in which I turned up five nights a week to lifeguard—as parents do from time to time. However, on dry land it was altogether different. Let me cite some examples.

I remember stepping off a London bus one day to see a woman lying on the pavement, literally in front of me, and five people standing around, before doing the basic checks and asking people, “Has anybody done anything? Has anybody moved her?” Everybody stood there, shook their heads and said no, either because they were too scared or because they did not know what to do. The lady was unconscious, and was still unconscious when the ambulance arrived. Again, it was people’s lack of knowledge that prevented them from doing even the basic checks—that her pulse was there and she was breathing.

On another occasion I was on a train, travelling into London, sitting opposite a very large gentleman who was clearly in difficulty. My assessment was that he was having a cardiac episode of some kind. We cleared the area around him. I asked whether there were any doctors or nurses on the train; there were not. People were coming up to me as I was in the middle of it all, asking, “Shouldn’t you ring his wife?” I got someone to stay with the man and keep him calm, went down the carriage with the woman and said, “Well, what do we tell her—that her husband is having an episode on a train in the middle of nowhere and we don’t know which hospital he is going to?” “Oh,” she said. Common sense, I am afraid, rather goes out of the window when these things happen. He was a very large gentleman and I was worried that if he actually went on me, he would not fit in the gap between the seats so that I could do CPR. So I was struggling about how I was going to do it, but fortunately we got to a station and the ambulance got there and took him away for expert treatment. Again, at the end of that, people came up and said, “Thank God you were there. We didn’t know what to do. We were scared”—exactly the same comments.

The final example was in Brighton, at the Grand hotel, when I was having a dinner during conference. One of the guests started choking, slumped and started to go blue. So it was a Heimlich manoeuvre. I have to say it was my boss, so it was probably just as well I did it, not least because he is alive and I have now just married him; but that is another story.