Although the title of this afternoon’s debate is “Infant First Aid Training for Parents”, there is some debate about whether it should not be “parental first aid training for infants.” No doubt, all will be revealed. I call Sarah Newton.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered infant first aid training for parents.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. You make a good point—I was never an excellent scholar, and I am sure my English can be improved upon. In the course of the debate, I hope to provide a good explanation of what I was seeking to achieve in securing it.
I would like to begin with Rowena’s story. Rowena had been shopping in a department store with her mother and her five-month-old daughter. They had stopped for coffee in the children’s section, where there were lots of mothers with their babies. Seated near their table was a mother feeding her nine-month-old baby girl some home-made food. Given that they both had little baby girls, they exchanged compliments on the girls and continued with their business.
Leaving her daughter with her mother, Rowena went off to buy some coffees. While in the queue, she heard screaming and a terrible commotion. Looking around, she realised it involved the mother she had just met. Rowena could see that something was wrong with the little girl, who was not moving and was very quiet. Instinctively, she left the queue and ran to the back of the café to see what she could do.
When Rowena arrived back at the table, she saw that two other customers had come to the mother’s aid. They were trying to calm the mother down while furiously patting the back of the baby girl. Rowena quickly realised that the baby was choking on the baby food that she had been fed. Fortunately, Rowena knew what to do. She told the women attempting to help to stop and that she had first aid training, and she took the baby. Because she had completed a baby first aid course, she felt confident enough to help.
Rowena sat on a chair and held the baby face down along the length of her left leg, with the head lower than the knee. She started to give her back blows, hitting her firmly between the shoulder blades. After Rowena delivered the second or third back blow, the baby girl started to cry, so Rowena realised that she could breathe and that the blockage in her throat had gone. She handed the girl to her mum and reassured both of them that everything was okay.
The mother was quite shocked and upset, and so was Rowena. She realised the significance of her intervention. She said:
“I didn’t fully realise until that point what had just happened and the gravity of it”.
She said it had a big impact on her. That day, Rowena had done something remarkable, yet so very simple. With a few simple actions, she had saved that baby’s life. I want to enable every new parent or carer to receive high-quality training.
I commend my hon. Friend on bringing this debate to the Chamber. I had first aid training with the Red Cross over a decade ago, as did my father. My dad put it to use when my mum had a mini-stroke, and my mum ended up using it on my dad when he was dying. I am a mother of a two-year-old little boy, Clifford. I am sure most parents would agree that the most precious thing in any parent’s life is their children. My hon. Friend has prompted me to go and be retrained, especially now that I have my little one. If we can, cross-party, encourage as many parents as possible to do that, that will be a win-win for us and for parents across the country.
I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention as a young mum. Rowena had her first aid training through the Red Cross, which can provide my hon. Friend with specialist training for babies and children. Administering first aid to a young child is quite different from administering it to an older person. I commend my hon. Friend, and I hope that, as a result of our work today, many more parents will do the same.
This is an excellent debate. The scale of the task we face is quite enormous. A survey published in The Daily Telegraph not so long ago showed that only 24% of parents thought they had the skills to be able to stop their child choking. That is a very small percentage. What can we do to encourage a vast number of parents to get the training?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I am blessed to say that I have three children, who are in their twenties; I remember how many times I was worried about them and went to my GP or to A&E unnecessarily. I wish I had done the training, because I would have felt much more confident as a parent—I certainly would have saved some valuable time in A&E and with doctors.
I was prompted to secure this debate to continue the work I have done to prevent avoidable deaths from sepsis. We have made huge progress, and the Government have done excellent work with the UK Sepsis Trust to make sure that parents are aware of the symptoms of sepsis, as are our healthcare professionals, from paramedics right the way through to people in hospitals, and professionals in nursery schools and primary schools. They are all having sepsis training. That is important, and now is the time to build on that and to empower parents to spot the signs of not only sepsis but all other serious illnesses.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate and for sharing Rowena’s story. We all know that story could have turned out very differently. My constituents Joanne and Dan Thompson set up Millie’s Trust after their daughter Millie tragically passed away in a choking incident in October 2012. The trust provides paediatric courses for nurseries, emergency first aid courses for workplaces and first aid courses for families, including for young children between the ages of eight and 16—that may answer your earlier question, Mr Hollobone. Does my hon. Friend join me in recognising the wonderful work of Millie’s Trust and charities like it, which offer courses not only to give confidence and reassurance to professionals and parents, but to ensure a good grounding in first aid, potentially giving life-saving information to people in situations such as Rowena’s?
Rowena’s story might not have ended so well without the wonderful work of Millie’s Trust and all the other organisations that ensure that people have the training to empower them to take the right action at the right time.
That brings me neatly to the statistics from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which suggest that 21% of child deaths involve a modifiable factor—something that could have been done to prevent that death. That is quite a significant number of lives that could have been saved if the appropriate action had been taken.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. The statistics that she outlines demonstrate how important first aid training could be—it could genuinely save lives. Given the number of agencies and organisations that young parents engage with, from schools and nurseries to GP practices, is there not a good opportunity to signpost the availability of existing courses to parents and raise their awareness of them? In my area, they are available through St John Ambulance and the Red Cross. That would encourage take-up. If parents heard the statistics, very many more would take up the opportunity.
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. I hope that in our small way—as a result of this debate, the people watching it from outside the Chamber and the media coverage we secure—we will encourage people to take up that opportunity. That is a really good idea.
“I have been a consultant general paediatrician for the last 12 years. I see children referred into hospital from their GPs, and the emergency department.
From the view of a general paediatrician a child illness and resuscitation course for all parents makes practical sense for the families and NHS services.
Parents are expected to make important decisions about their children’s health and about seeking medical advice. But we know they find it difficult to work out if their child just has a minor viral illness, or something more serious. Unfortunately not all parents are educationally equipped to read instructions from their red book, NHS Choices or health advice apps like the ‘HandiApp’. For them, we know they really need time and practice in a supportive environment to learn these decision making skills. We repeatedly see this in the families we teach resuscitation to on the wards.
What is needed in my opinion, is a course for all parents and those in child care on how to manage the common emergency problems like choking, diarrhoea and vomiting, a seizure, recognising sepsis, managing a head injury, or in preventing accidents, drowning or cot death. These learnt skills could help keep children safe and healthy, so should be the skills highly valued by families. Vitally, early action may help prevent some medical emergencies deteriorating to life threatening illness.
This can only be good for the health of children, and for children’s acute NHS services.”
I completely agree.
In 2013, the Department for Education undertook a confidential inquiry into maternal and child health in England. It conducted a meticulous audit of deaths of babies and children, and reported identifiable failures in children’s direct care in just over a quarter of deaths, and potentially avoidable factors in a further 43% of deaths. The University of Northampton’s 2017 report “Before Arrival at Hospital: Factors affecting timing of admission to hospital for children with serious infectious illness” stated that parents often find it difficult to access relevant health information or to interpret symptoms, and that it can even be difficult for GPs to determine how serious a case is in the early stages.
I have been working with Cornwall Resus, which was established in 2012 by two paediatric nurses to give parents and carers the necessary skills to empower them to recognise when their baby or child is unwell and to respond appropriately. It runs courses for parents in community centres around Cornwall. Those courses last two to two and a half hours and include practical training on choking and resuscitation using lifelike dummies, with lots of time for questions and discussion at the end. I know that I would not be happy to undertake those actions unless I had practised them on a dummy first; having just looked at instructions or a diagram, I would still be very nervous about the amount of pressure to apply, so using dummies and having practical sessions and reassurance is really important.
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this subject forward for consideration, and I commend her for the work she did as a Minister. I am very pleased to see her active on the Back Benches with the rest of us. I became a grandfather for the third time just before Christmas, when my grandson Austin—I already had two granddaughters—was born. I am very mindful that parents are immensely stressed after the birth of their baby, given the care babies require. For each parent to have just a bit of knowledge about these things at that time can be the difference between life and death. Does the hon. Lady agree that there is an opportunity, through the antenatal classes that mothers do with their local trust and GP, to instil in parents the basic skills she refers to?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I will come on to what I would like the Government to consider doing. I do not think we should be prescriptive about how this training is enabled. Lots of organisations provide such training—Kernow Resus is one such organisation, but we have also heard about the Red Cross, St John Ambulance and Millie’s Trust—and of course there is the NHS workforce themselves: maternity nurses, and healthcare professionals who visit families at home. We should not be at all prescriptive about how we might enable this training, but it is important that all parents have the opportunity to participate.
Most courses cost around £30, which will seem to most of us like a very modest investment, but not every parent will be able to afford that. That will be a real barrier for some families. That is why I would like the Government to enable universal access to high-quality, evidence-based training delivered by fully qualified providers. That would give us the opportunity to reduce morbidity and mortality and, importantly, family distress. It would also help tackle the associated costs of treatment, hospital admissions and even possible litigation. We have seen huge improvements in child and infant health in our country. The number of deaths of babies and small children has fallen significantly, but it is still far too high, so I really hope that the Minister will consider seriously how we might take forward this relatively modest, straightforward intervention.
The NHS is rightly focused on preventing ill health and injury, and I am delighted that the Government are investing so much in it. I am sure everybody in the Chamber is fully supportive of that investment. It would require only modest investment to pilot this training in a couple of geographical areas and work with a couple of local commissioning groups to see how they might go about delivering it. We have heard about a range of options they might pursue. By giving commissioning groups responsibility to see how they might go about that, we could collect proper evidence about not only the impact on families and the reduction of deaths and harm to children, but the impact on acute trusts and primary care in an area if, as a result of being more confident, parents do not engage with the NHS quite so much.
This would be a small but vital step. It would be such a positive contribution. We would have more Rowenas, and far fewer families would have to cope with the dreadful grief of losing a loved one.
Order. The debate can last until 4 o’clock. I am obliged to begin calling the Front Benchers no later than 3.27 pm. The guideline limits are 10 minutes for the SNP, 10 minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister, and then Sarah Newton will have three minutes at the end to sum up the debate. Until 3.27 pm, it is Back-Bench time. Two Members have indicated that they would like to speak. I call Douglas Ross.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I commend my hon. Friend Sarah Newton for securing this important debate, and for the various points that she raised. The way she delivered her remarks shows that the care and compassion she displayed as a Minister continues on the Back Benches. We heard from the interventions of several hon. Members how important this issue is for many people.
I approach the debate as the father of a 22-day-old; young Alastair was born three weeks ago yesterday. That is where my interest in this issue comes from. I am now mentioning my son and my wife quite a lot in the Chamber; it seems my soft side is coming out. To compensate, I remind people that when I was first elected, a magazine did a profile of all the Scottish Conservatives who had been elected, in which I was described as “tough as teak”. I have a tough side and a soft side, which I hope to balance in the debate. I was keen to take part in it for personal reasons, but also to explain some of the issues that my constituents face. While I was shocked and disappointed by the Red Cross figures that showed that just 5% of adults had the skills and confidence to provide emergency first aid to infants, I had to accept and admit that I was among the 95% who do not have those skills and have not gone through that training. I probably should have. In the nine months ahead of Alastair’s birth, I thought we had prepared for everything. We bought nursery equipment and new clothes, and even went down to the detail of how we would introduce our child to our dog. Those are all things we thought about, and it was only when this debate appeared on the Order Paper that I thought we had done nothing about preparing ourselves for this new human being coming into our lives and how we would care for him and look after him if, in the unfortunate situation described by some hon. Members, he required emergency first aid.
One of the great benefits we got ahead of my wife giving birth was the care, understanding and education of our antenatal classes. They were excellent. At Dr Gray’s and throughout Moray we have excellent midwives. We went along to Moray College on two Thursdays to attend the classes, which really prepared us both, giving us all the knowledge and information we needed for the birth and the first few days. I now wonder why we do not introduce an element of first aid training into those antenatal classes. There is a captive audience of parents wanting to know more about the first stages in their child’s life and the birth process, and they could be told how to provide emergency treatment for an infant if they require it once they are home.
I endorse what the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend Jim Shannon have said about using antenatal classes. The parents are there and they want to learn, so that is a good opportunity. Does he agree that there are alternative opportunities, such as through Sure Start, to target families to support them on looking after their child? There is that opportunity after the child’s birth to give parents those necessary skills to save lives.
I fully endorse what the hon. Lady said. If there is not time or there are other constraints that mean a first aid element cannot be included in an antenatal class, perhaps there should be a signpost saying, “This is something you can consider. Here are some of the organisations who could do this,” just to put it on people’s radar. They are very excited about the birth of their child and fascinated by the birth process, which they have gone along to learn about, so just mentioning that may be a trigger that would make some parents consider, “Actually it is important to go to that organisation, or another, to get that training.”
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the birth of his son—as I have done already. Will he be a footballer or a referee—who knows?
There is another option: the health visitor calls to check on the child and the mother, and there is a follow-up after birth. There are many ways other than statutory ways of doing this.
Absolutely. One of the texts I was reading before I came to the debate was from my wife, who had had her weekly meeting with the health visitor this afternoon. That is something we can look at, and at the end of my remarks I will explain what I think we could do in Scotland and for other new parents in Moray.
Having not had the option or opportunity to do that training in antenatal classes, we looked at what first aid training was available in Moray for people with infants. During my research for this debate, I was notified that there were no classes at all in the Moray constituency; parents must travel to Aberdeen—a 70-mile journey each way. As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth said, the classes cost about £40, which is not much for some but prohibitive for others. Those classes cost roughly £40 to £50 in Aberdeen, 70 miles away, or in Dundee, 150 miles away. I mentioned in a previous Westminster Hall debate the downgrading of our maternity services in Moray—I am fighting against that—and surely we must ensure that first aid classes for people with infants are available in a constituency the size of Moray, because we want to attract people to come here and set up their families. We must have everything possible available to them.
Since I did not take these classes, I looked at some of the things I could learn at them. My hon. Friend Dr Johnson, who will follow me, will give far more information, given her medical background; I look forward to listening to her. However, for example, I was fascinated to learn that, to treat a burn on an infant, the burn area must be put under cold water for 10 minutes and then covered with cling film. I think I could do the cling film bit, but keeping my 22-day-old baby under a cold water tap for 10 minutes would be challenging, given how difficult we have found bathtimes. I also noted that the best cure for any bumps was putting what we in Scotland call a cloot—frozen peas in a towel—on the bump. I therefore learnt a bit in preparation for the debate, which I hope provides reassurance that things are progressing.
Many more new parents would feel confident and more comfortable in the knowledge gained from such classes. It is not simply about not knowing but about a lack of confidence, as my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth said. We can have how we would do something in the back of our mind—we may have seen something we could try on television—but having the confidence that results from practising on dummies, as she mentioned, before having to take that step is important. Of course, we all hope we will never have to use that know-how.
I commend the Government’s proposal for health education to become compulsory in primary and secondary schools from September, requiring schools to teach first aid and life-saving skills. That is important because by the time a pupil leaves school they will have all the skills we are mentioning today, having been taught to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation as well as learning the purpose of a defibrillator and basic treatment for common injuries. In Scotland, I really back the “Save a life Scotland” strategy, which aims to equip 500,000 people in Scotland with CPR skills by 2020—that work to be done in primary and secondary schools with partner organisations the Scottish Ambulance Service, the Red Cross, Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland and many others.
St John Ambulance states that when a child stops breathing, only one in four parents know what to do. When 82% of people feel it important to know first aid and 80% are interested in first aid, surely this is as good a time as any to include first aid training in a number of elements, whether antenatal classes or our national curriculum, so that people who lack knowledge and confidence have that built up, so that they know they are not doing something wrong if faced with a situation where they need to perform first aid.
One of the best sources of information for the debate was the “save a life” survey carried out by Mother and Baby magazine, which we have become regular subscribers to. It found that 62% of parents said that knowing first aid skills would make them feel more prepared for parenthood and 57% said they would leave an injured child until an ambulance arrived, which is wrong. If we learn basic first aid skills, we can assist a child in those cases. It also found that 55% of parents said they lacked the skills necessary to save their child in the event of a life-threatening accident and 72% of parents would not know how to assist an unconscious child with CPR, or even deal with burns or scolds. Only 19% of parents interviewed—less than one in five—had been on a first aid course in the previous five years. We should change that, and thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth having secured this debate, we can go forward on that.
In a number of years of marriage, I have found it is best to leave the final word to my wife. When I told her that I was to speak in this debate and what I was to say on training for new parents about infants, she said, “You don’t want to have to do it, but having the knowledge is reassuring.” That is how we should go forward. We should ensure that my wife, and all parents in Moray, in Scotland and across the UK, have that knowledge to save a child’s life if required, even if we never want them to have to use it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Sarah Newton on securing this important debate. She has been a champion of raising awareness to reduce avoidable deaths through working with Sepsis Trust—sepsis is also a major killer of adults and children—and I am delighted that she has now lent her voice to the cause of infant first aid training for parents. As a paediatric consultant, this is an issue close to my heart.
My hon. Friend highlighted the alarmingly high number of cases where something could have been done to prevent a child’s death: 21% according to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. I should declare my membership of that organisation. Working on a children’s ward for the last 15 years, sadly I have seen far too many of those 21%. However, I have also seen children whose lives were saved by passing members of the public, as was described earlier in the case of Rowena, by doctors or health professionals, or by visiting family members who just happened to spot something and were able to help.
My hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth powerfully described a case of a child choking. As we approach Easter and then summer, mini-eggs and grapes are particular culprits. Advice should include how to manage a choking child, as well as simple measures to prevent choking. Chopping up grapes into little pieces, sitting down while eating and not running about with things in the mouth are helpful in preventing choking, but it can still happen to anybody, young or old, at any time. We should all know some of the manoeuvres that can help, such as the one my hon. Friend described in the case of the baby choking. The baby should be held face down across the adult’s legs, so that the baby’s head is lower than the adult’s knee, and blows should be applied to the baby’s back, between the shoulder blades.
That sort of information does not take long to learn, but can have a huge impact and can be responsible for saving somebody’s life. The information is already provided to a number of parents. I have delivered infant first aid to parents whose children have been in hospital. Each of the neonatal units that I worked on in the midlands provided first aid training to parents before they left hospital, in part because pre-term babies are more vulnerable when they have just left hospital and in part to provide parents with the confidence to manage very small babies when they go home, as was described by my hon. Friend Douglas Ross. Training is also provided routinely to parents who have had a child die in the past, but obviously we want to look at prevention.
Emma Little Pengelly talked about contact with health visitors and midwives. Evidence shows that parents are particularly receptive to messages about healthcare and first aid when they have just had their baby or when they are expecting their baby, as my hon. Friend the Member for Moray mentioned. That is a time before life becomes really busy, when one can reflect on the joy that is to come and be well prepared for it.
There are lots of opportunities for first aid training to be provided. There are antenatal classes, where training can be signposted or provided, as well as nurseries. I strongly believe that the practical advice should not just include what to do when things have gone wrong, but how to stop them going wrong in the first place. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray mentioned burns. I remember the case of a child who walked past a lit candle; it caught her dress and she got severe burns to her whole front. In that case her mum knew what to do—drop her to the floor, roll her over and stop the burning—and treated the situation appropriately, but even so the injury was severe and could have been prevented if the candle had not been left on such a low table.
Using seatbelts and car seats are among other simple measures that we know we should to do. One major cause of preventable deaths in children is drowning, so there should be simple advice about making sure that children are not left unsupervised around open water. I have seen this particularly in situations where there has been open water and a group of people, often at a big family event, where everybody is looking after the child but there is not one specific person watching to see that they do not end up in the water. At one of my children’s christenings, I was upstairs in a bedroom on the other side of the house when I saw from the window that a friend’s little boy had gone towards the small pond we had in the garden and that he was on his own. I ran downstairs and was fortunate that he had not gone into the pond by the time I got there. My husband was out with a digger the following day getting rid of the pond. It was not worth the risk, but if people have such ponds they need to be carefully managed. I have certainly seen children drown in those situations.
One thing that can be neglected in homes is fluids in cupboards. Years ago, when we were younger, fluids were kept in lemonade bottles and similar containers, and children did not realise that. I well remember when my second boy was very young—he was the one who everything seemed to happen to—he managed to get a gulp or two of Brasso. He had the shiniest backside that any child ever had, but that is by the way. It can easily happen that a fluid can be drunk or absorbed by a youngster. We need to take steps in our own homes to ensure that all fluids are under lock and key, wherever they may be.
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about fluids. I noticed when I bought some washing detergent last week that the lids now have a clasp that is especially difficult to open, so children cannot consume those little bubbles. No one is ever perfect; I know that if I looked for hazards to my three children in my own home they would be there. So far, thank God, I have been lucky and I hope that will continue, but we can all do things to reduce risk.
I am glad that the Government are committed to ensuring that all early learning staff have first aid training, but it is time that they did the same for parents. Since 2016, all newly qualified level 2 and 3 early years staff must hold a current paediatric first aid or emergency paediatric first aid certificate. The Millie’s Mark quality scheme, which was commended by my hon. Friend Mary Robinson, was also launched in 2016. It requires childcare providers to train 100% of their staff in paediatric first aid, not just to have one trained person on site at any one time. The 300th nursery gained Millie’s Mark last summer, which was a cause for celebration, and I am proud those nurseries include Dappledown House Nursery and Appletree Corner Daycare in my constituency. My son’s nursery has offered parents first aid training in the last couple of months, so the message is getting out there and that needs to continue.
The efforts to provide safety in schools should now be matched to provide safety in the home. The time and financial investment needed to provide that is small. It costs £30 for two and a half hours of invaluable training on some of the most common causes of avoidable death, including choking, and ways of providing resuscitation. Providing preventive medicine is one of the best investments we can make. As well as avoiding tragedy, it takes pressure off our NHS services, which are facing ever-increasing demand. It is the right thing to do for both our children and our country, and I am glad to lend my support to this cause today.
Jim Shannon is telling me that I will get endless amounts of time, but I will not indulge the House and will try to be relatively brief.
It is, as always, an immense pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and to see you here today, Mr Hollobone. Can I, as others have done, congratulate Sarah Newton on securing the debate? I always thought she was a conscientious Minister. I was annoyed that the week she resigned I had had a productive meeting with her about taking forward some changes to regulations. I hope the Government will appoint a new Minister soon and that we can follow that up. In one respect it is sad that she has left Government, but, as Members have said, it is good to see her on the Back Benches pursuing this issue. We wish her well, not just for this campaign but for her future time here.
In opening the debate, the hon. Lady spoke movingly about the story of Rowena. There was something incredibly encouraging and powerful about the story, which leads us to think about how many of us have received infant first aid training. It certainly gave a lot of us food for thought. Her asks of the Government are modest. She is not asking for billions of pounds of spending—perhaps if her colleagues from the DUP did it, they might have more success—but in all seriousness, she is looking for a modest change. I hope that the Minister is taking note and will take that back to the Department.
The hon. Lady was right to highlight the fact that it is great that organisations such as St John Ambulance and the Red Cross offer training on a commercial basis—they are charities and they have to cover their costs—but it is a bit sad that people have been asked to pay £30 or £40. As Douglas Ross highlighted, it is not just the cost of the courses that must be considered; if people travel to Edinburgh, Dundee or Aberdeen there are travel costs as well, which will be more than £40. He was right to put that on the record.
When we discuss the health service, I try to focus on the preventive spending agenda. As Dr Johnson said, this idea backs up preventive spending. If we empower parents and give them first aid training, it means that fewer people will present at accident and emergency at hospitals, and that can only be a good thing further down the line. There is a safety aspect to the argument, but also an economic aspect. The hon. Lady was right to put that on the record.
We had interventions from the hon. Members for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns), for Henley (John Howell), for Cheadle (Mary Robinson), for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) and for Strangford. We also had two excellent contributions from the hon. Members for Moray and for Sleaford and North Hykeham. As we know, the hon. Member for Moray has become a dad recently and has joined the club of dads who are also MPs. I know that he will be having sleepless nights at the moment. I sometimes tell my wife that I come to Westminster for a rest and a good night’s sleep. I am sure he is doing that as well.
A new parent spends so much time preparing for the arrival of a child, whether it is painting the nursery or getting the pram, but we miss out something as basic as first aid for infants. We now have two children, one of three and one of six months. Jessica was born in September. I had moved into a new house and was bolting drawers and wardrobes to the wall. As I was listening to this debate, I thought about how I spent so much time thinking about how to bolt IKEA furniture to the wall and yet I have done no first aid training, which is absolutely bonkers.
The hon. Member for Moray is right to say that there is a tremendous opportunity at antenatal classes. I know that the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth does not want to be too prescriptive, but it is certainly something that we should look at in Scotland, and I would be happy to work with the hon. Gentleman on making representations to NHS Scotland. He was right to put on the record the case of Dr Gray’s in Moray. Every time I have spoken in these debates and mentioned it, I get in trouble for not trumpeting the Scottish Government line on it, but as a constituency MP he is absolutely right to put it on the record. He is a powerful champion for his constituents and it is good that that is on the record again.
The hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham spoke with her professional expertise as a paediatric consultant. I have the great pleasure of chairing the all-party group on premature and sick babies—something that I will talk about later. As for paediatric consultants and neonatal staff, certainly in my experience of two occasions, we see those guys as gods when we are on the neonatal units, so it is really encouraging to have the hon. Lady in the House using her professional expertise in this debate. She was right to put on the record some of the public health messages that we as politicians can get out to our constituents, whether it is about cutting up grapes or highlighting the dangers that come up around Easter with mini-eggs.
One of the reasons I was asked by my party to sum up the debate is because I have a personal interest in the subject. I have two children, both of whom were born prematurely. On both occasions, there was a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. We had two similar but slightly different experiences, the second of which was in September when my daughter was born and spent almost a month in hospital. She came home on oxygen and is still on oxygen at six months old. She gets it 24 hours a day. Before leaving the hospital, we were given an excellent document from the charity, Bliss, “Going home on oxygen”. Before we got that document, we had done the car seat test. For my daughter to leave hospital, she had to be able to be in a car seat for an hour to make sure she did not stop breathing. The last thing that we did before taking my daughter home was to practise CPR on a dummy, which is an incredibly stark experience. On the one hand, you are there as a dad getting to take your daughter home. You have been on the neonatal unit and have put all of your trust in the staff, but you have to go home. As I was preparing for this debate, it struck me that it is good to provide CPR training and to practise on a dummy, but even now we are not yet at the stage where we have had the full infant first aid training course.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth on securing this debate and moving the issue up the agenda. There is much that we can do, even if it is simple things such as making sure we use our voices as politicians to encourage training. Her asks are very modest and she certainly has our support to further the agenda.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate Sarah Newton on securing this important debate. The subject has had a lot of attention in the news recently, but not much attention in this place. Having listened to the speeches and talked to colleagues across the House, I do not think there will be much disagreement here today. The fact that there are not many Members here says more about the subject than it does about any other business in this House, important as it is: any Member seeing the title of this debate might say, “It’s a no-brainer. What is there to talk about? Of course it is something we support.” It is important to put these things on the record.
Members have talked about their personal experiences as parents and grandparents—I am sure we all want to congratulate Douglas Ross on the new addition to his family. People have spoken movingly about their own children and grandchildren. As a parent and a grandparent—I am going to be a grandparent again next week—I am reminded of how important the subject is, and we ought to give proper consideration to it. This debate gives us that opportunity, so I am grateful to the hon. Lady for securing it.
As the hon. Lady rightly says, a lot of people have spoken from personal experience, but we as MPs have a role far beyond that—we are champions in our own constituencies. Does she not think that we should take the lessons learned and go out and make these points very forcefully in our constituencies?
The other point made by the hon. Member for Moray was that access is not easy. In preparation for this debate I checked up on access to training courses for my constituents and found that, even though I represent an urban community, it involves a 60-mile drive or a long train journey on a slow, rickety train line. That presents a massive barrier to my constituents accessing such training. I totally take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, and I agree with him entirely.
The safety of our children is and always should be paramount, and it is therefore important that, in the event of an obvious health emergency, parents have at least a basic knowledge of first aid so that they can take action before professional help arrives—actions that might save the child’s life. The hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth made a strong point about how it is important that parents are trained to recognise the symptoms of what can be serious diseases, such as sepsis and meningitis. It would be useful if parents were equipped to recognise the symptoms before they decide whether to call 999 or take their child to hospital, because knowing how to spot the symptoms really does save lives.
First aid, as the term suggests, is the first medical attention that a person receives after an accident or during a medical emergency. Despite what many people have been led to believe, first aid does not have to be delivered by medical professionals—we have established that. A person’s chances of surviving a medical emergency are increased dramatically if a member of the community can respond with first aid immediately. What happens in the crucial minutes after someone dials 999 or the NHS’s 111 and before professional help arrives can be the difference between life and death. The British Red Cross reported that close to a quarter of infant deaths could have been prevented had there been a qualified first aider on hand, and who better to be trained than the parent?
A few weeks ago I was walking to a parliamentary event across the square, and I came across a man who was unconscious and not very well. When I called 999 for an ambulance, I noticed that the ambulance operators who answer the phone provide detailed and step-by-step advice to callers about what to do. That is a beneficial thing to note.
That is an important point. I have been on the receiving end of that with a family member, waiting for an ambulance and listening to instructions. Nevertheless, I appreciate that having the confidence to follow those instructions, particularly with a young child, might go a little beyond that.
This is about re-teaching people about what they think they know. There is a lot of so-called knowledge out there among people who think they know first aid, but that is often based on what they have seen in the media, which sometimes puts style before substance. In fact, procedures shown for dramatic effect often bear little resemblance to safe first aid. Furthermore, carrying out procedures without proper training might do more harm than good. First aid for babies is also vastly different from first aid for adults and other young children. Such important matters should be regarded as key parenting skills.
All parents, irrespective of their ability to pay, should have access to high-quality first aid training as a priority. Access to first aid training is about more than skills; it is also about building confidence and resilience. The British Red Cross surveyed a group of people it had trained in first aid, and asked whether they felt the training had contributed to their personal wellbeing. Three quarters of the respondents said it had made them more capable and more reliable in an emergency, and half said it had made them more determined and better at finding their way out of difficult situations.
Ahead of this debate, the British Red Cross shared with me the case of Leanne, a young mum from Swindon. When her baby, Maia, was six months old, Leanne took a baby first aid course with the British Red Cross. When Maia was 18 months old, she had a febrile seizure. Using knowledge from her first aid course, Leanne was able to save Maia’s life by instantly recognising the signs, taking steps to cool her down by removing her blanket, and placing her on the floor so that she did not injure herself during the seizure. After the seizure was over, Leanne further reduced Maia’s temperature by stripping her down to her vest, and she placed her in the infant recovery position. Leanne’s quick thinking saved Maia’s life before the paramedics arrived, and Maia is back to her playful, happy self. Leanne was able to do that only because she recognised the signs of a febrile seizure from her baby and child first aid course.
A seizure can be a terrifying and violent event for a parent to witness, especially when they do not understand what is happening. Febrile seizures are not unusual in babies and children between the ages of six months and three years. However, the Red Cross reports that, when questioned, 66% of parents had not been taught to recognise a febrile seizure, and 65% did not even know what one was. The baby and first aid course gave Leanne the knowledge and skills to act, but most importantly it also gave her the confidence. She said:
“I’m grateful that I had attended a baby and child first aid course which meant I knew what to look out for and how to deal with a febrile seizure.”
Because of her first aid knowledge, she felt calm and able to act for her daughter.
We have heard many examples of such events, and we are grateful to Dr Johnson for sharing her expertise. People in the wider public often talk about MPs living in a bubble or ivory tower, but the hon. Lady’s expert and practical knowledge demonstrates yet again that Members of Parliament are in touch and know what is happening out there. As John Howell said, it is right and proper to use our position to spread that knowledge and champion causes such as this.
In 2014, Mumsnet sponsored 20 mums to take part in British Red Cross baby and infant first aid training. All the mums rated the training highly, and one said:
“I really enjoyed the course as every single thing discussed could easily relate to me and my children. All the videos of real-life scenarios really brought it home how easily these things could happen, but now I feel confident and that I could make a real difference to the outcome, and would feel so much more knowledgeable on what to do in an emergency situation.”
As we have heard, there are many different providers of first aid training for parents of infants. I specifically mentioned the British Red Cross, and other hon. Members have mentioned St John Ambulance, which offers first aid courses designed specifically for babies and children. There are also local providers, such as the one championed by the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth. In addition, the NHS provides an online app to support parents with first aid for their infants. One parent said:
“Although you could read everything on the app and watch the videos for free, I think doing it in a class environment really makes you take it all in. It will also make you feel more confident if you were ever to need to help someone or your own child.”
As the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care often reminds us, technology in the NHS is helpful, but it is not a substitute for services delivered by real people. In terms of first aid provision for parents, such apps can be useful to reinforce training given in a class setting, but they should not be seen as a substitute.
The hon. Lady is generous in giving way. Does she agree that both technology and face-to-face contact have their benefits and can be combined? A “sim” dolly is an electronic version of a resuscitation dolly, and when supervised resuscitation is provided to a baby, it provides electronic feedback on whether compressions are deep or fast enough, as that can be measured electronically by the dummy itself.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her expertise in that technology, and such things can be used in combination with a class setting and training to support existing knowledge. I agree that, on specific occasions, such technology has an important role.
In terms of treatment, we lack consistency of provision and access. We have already spoken about distances to, and charges for, courses being a barrier for some parents. Shockingly, research by the Red Cross showed that 95% of parents did not know what to do when shown three examples of life-threatening medical emergencies. Surely it is time to ensure that training is available for every parent in every region. I take the point that we ought not to be prescriptive, but in leaving things to local providers, we must ensure that no one falls through the gaps and no parent is missed.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has warned that UK infant mortality levels are among the highest in the developed world. There are many reasons for that, but cuts to local child services, community health projects, and community midwives and health visitors have undoubtedly not helped. It is clearly desirable to ensure that this important provision is adequately funded, but a significant proportion of deaths could be prevented by ensuring that all parents are equipped with important first aid skills.
Of course, a parent first aider is no replacement for a health visitor or paramedic, but they can be the first line of defence when it comes to helping their children live longer and healthier lives. Informed parents can prevent unnecessary trips to the GP and inappropriate hospital admissions, and it is a shame that despite the support that community and parent first aiders provide to the NHS and families, they are barely mentioned in the NHS long-term plan. That is important because if the Secretary of State is serious about making the NHS the best health service in the world, and about having an NHS that promotes health and wellbeing through a focus on prevention, the Government must make first aid in the community a priority. Equipping parents to look after their infants is a good and important step.
Will the Minister take action to ensure that universal first aid training forms part of the antenatal care available to parents? This is about providing families and communities with the skills to step forward in an emergency so that tragedies can be avoided. Learning such skills can be the difference between a life saved and a life lost.
I join all colleagues in thanking my hon. Friend Sarah Newton for bringing this important subject forward for debate. She has brought to it her characteristic good sense and made her case extremely well. I join colleagues in paying tribute to her work as a Minister. I must say that I had to work with her regularly when she was Minister for Disabled People and I miss her terribly, but if today is anything to go by, I am sure she will keep me busy from her position on the Back Benches, and I thank her for that.
I thank all hon. Members who have participated today, particularly my hon. Friend Douglas Ross, who brought his perspective as a new parent. If he will forgive my saying so, as he was articulating some of the things he learned, it brought home to me how new parents can be a bit like rabbits caught in headlights, thinking, “Oh my goodness, I’ve got this fragile thing, what am I to do?” Again, that brings home the need for parents to feel confident in looking after their newborns.
My hon. Friend Dr Johnson gave a forensic exposition of the risks children face, and reminded us that we are equipping people with good, common-sense practical skills for things that can happen to anybody. She made her arguments extremely well. It is always a pleasure to listen to David Linden; again, he brought the subject to life beautifully with his own experience and spoke excellent common sense.
I am surprised to hear that Julie Cooper is a grandmother, but that probably explains why she speaks from such a well-informed perspective. I am glad that she shared Leanne’s story, because it was a perfect example of how going through a course made that parent feel confident about how to deal with a child in distress, and helped her to understand exactly what the condition in front of her was.
Faced with such evidence, we can only do more to spread the news to parents that it is a good idea to equip themselves with first aid skills. From an NHS perspective, as the hon. Lady mentioned, if parents know more about their children’s conditions, there will be fewer visits to A&E and fewer visits to GPs, and that will make the NHS more effective. In a sense, what is not to like?
There are many providers of such products in the market. We have heard about St John Ambulance, the Red Cross and other local providers, and I would not want to favour one or other of them, beyond highlighting that those courses are available, as well as material on the NHS app. I hear what the hon. Lady says—that that is no substitute—but I tend to see these things as complementary. Today’s new parents are of the smartphone generation and want to access material via apps, and we must ensure that we have a good spread of information available to parents.
The death of any child is a tragedy, and the more we can do to support people to be the best possible parents, the better, because it is vital to the longer-term outcomes for the health and life chances of their children. I know my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth brought her experience from her campaign to raise awareness of sepsis, which she referred to in her speech. Sepsis is a silent killer, and probably one of the most preventable causes of death, if we can identify it quickly enough. It is important that we continue to raise awareness so that people, and particularly parents, can spot the signs of sepsis and make decisions and interventions that will help sufferers.
Reference has been made to where we have these interventions and who can give new parents advice on first aid. I see midwives and health visitors as being on the frontline of doing that. My hon. Friend the Member for Moray explained that antenatal period when we are building a relationship and lapping up the information. The trust parents have in midwives and health visitors is a special relationship and presents a powerful opportunity for us to make an intervention to improve health outcomes for all. I see them as the cornerstone of ensuring that parents have the knowledge and skills they need before, during and after their baby’s birth, and that they have access to all the information they need.
There is information on the NHS website with tips for new parents, including information on the signs of a serious illness in a baby or toddler, but it is important that health visitors talk through common conditions with parents. It is a question of confidence; it is about making parents feel confident that they know what is happening to their child and that they can do their best to help them.
That was brought home by the account my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth gave of Rowena’s story and the fact that Rowena felt able to take someone’s child and help them because she had had that grounding. Such things can obviously go the other way, and none of us wants to be in the position of thinking, “What if?” or, “If only”. There is clearly every reason to encourage as widespread training in first aid as is possible.
My hon. Friend has a simple ask: she wishes the Government to fund a pilot project to generate evidence for a further roll-out of the project she has witnessed locally in Cornwall. The National Institute for Health Research welcomes funding applications for research into any aspect of human health, and any application will of course be judged in the normal way. Awards are made on the basis of the importance of the topic to patients and health and care services, value for money and scientific quality, so I encourage her and the team she is working with to apply for such a grant so that we can, as she says, demonstrate that the training has an impact on outcomes and provides better value for money for the NHS. It seems to me to speak for itself, but I encourage her to go through that process.
Can the Minister assure us that, if funding is achieved for such a pilot and the training is shown to be beneficial, the Government will commit to universal provision?
That will come down to the evidence base. The hon. Lady raised some questions about prevention in her speech. Following the long-term plan, we are working up our wider proposals for prevention, and we see interventions in the early years and childhood as extremely important, so we will look at what measures we need to take in that context. At this stage, I am not able to commit to universal provision of a particular product, but we need to look at how we can best equip parents with the tools to look after their children as well as they possibly can.
Every parent wants their child to stay safe. Frankly, my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham scared me to death with the risks she highlighted, because they illustrate just how easily any one of us could fall victim to an accident, and for a child that is especially the case. We know that unintentional injuries are one of the main causes of premature death and illness for children in England. To put a figure on that, every year in England 55 children under the age of five die from injuries in and around the home, which is 7% of all deaths of children aged one to four. That is pretty stark. We can factor on to that the 370,000 visits to A&E departments and 40,000 emergency hospital admissions in England each year because of accidents at home among under-fives.
Preventing accidents is part of Public Health England’s priority of giving children and young people the best start in life, and is an area to focus on. I was struck by the reference to choking, because that is a situation where knowing what we are doing can be the difference between life and death; by the time an ambulance has been called, it will be too late. There is much more that we need to do to educate people on how to deal with a child who is choking, because it is something that can happen to any child. We have all seen children excited and gobbling their food down, and with that obviously comes the attendant risk.
As I mentioned, health visitors are accessible to all parents and provide a trusted source of knowledge, advice and information. I want to make sure that we take full advantage of health visitors in that space. Through our work on early years, we are looking at what more we can do to support them, to make the most of that intervention. I am confident that if we make better use of that workforce, we can take a lot of action in this area, not least because parents find engaging with their health visitor less intimidating than they perhaps find medical professionals or anyone else; it is a relationship built up in the home. Health visitors are also the part of the scheme that deals not only with mum but with dad and the rest of the family as well, which is so important. Health visitors lead and support the delivery of preventive programmes for infants and children from nought to five years old through the healthy child programme, including by giving regular advice on accident prevention and links to wider community resources.
The hon. Lady will be aware that there has been a fall in the number of health visitors, following a peak in 2015. I am extremely committed to making sure that we have an ample supply of health visitors, because they are on the frontline of early intervention; they are an army. She will know that the NHS long-term plan, recognising that local authorities have borne the brunt of fiscal discipline in this area, explicitly says that we will strengthen the relationship between the NHS and local authorities in this space, because that is clearly good for health outcomes. I hope that that reassures the hon. Lady.
I could go on for much longer, Mr Hollobone, but I do not want to stretch your indulgence unduly. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth for all her work on this matter and on raising awareness of sepsis. We will continue to co-operate in this area. I can tell her that Public Health England very much has this area on its radar, in terms of giving advice to parents on how best to look after their children. We will continue to work with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to establish a single, England-wide paediatric early warning system to improve the recognition and response of healthcare services to deteriorating children or young people across England in primary and community care, including in the ambulance service and hospitals. Information and advice to help parents recognise and respond to signs and symptoms of ill health are freely available.
We must continue to champion and promote this cause. I thank midwives and health visitors for their tremendous work—they play such an important role in this—as well as providers of first aid courses. I look forward to engaging with my hon. Friend further on this matter.
I hope, now that we are at the end of the debate, that the words on the Order Paper are beginning to make a bit more sense. It has been a fantastic debate, and I am grateful to the many Members who have come along today, particularly as there has been so much about Brexit in the main Chamber. That people have chosen to spend time here this afternoon underlines how important this issue really is.
It was great to hear from the parents in the room, including my hon. Friend Andrea Jenkyns, and my hon. Friend Douglas Ross David Linden, who I congratulate on becoming new fathers and on being prepared to speak so personally and eloquently about their journey as parents. If as a result of this debate we have done nothing more than to make sure than they sign up to courses and tell all their friends who are also young parents to go out and do those courses, we will have achieved something.
I also thank Julie Cooper for reminding us of the important contribution of grandparents. More than ever, grandparents care directly for babies and children, so it is important that they are also trained and feel confident, because things change over time. It is good to hear a grandparent’s point of view.
As my hon. Friend John Howell rightly reminded us, we are all champions in this place, whatever our personal experience. Whether we are like my hon. Friend Dr Johnson, who brings huge professional expertise, or we are unqualified but passionate advocates for our communities, we have a very important role. I am sure that the my hon. Friend Mary Robinson and the hon. Members for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) in leading campaigns in their constituencies to raise awareness of the courses and training that are available, so that more parents feel confident and able to identify the signs of serious illness or injury and to take appropriate action.
I am grateful to the Minister, whom I thoroughly enjoyed working with; I miss working with her. I will certainly take up her kind offer to follow up on the debate. I was particularly interested in her point about the NHS long-term plan and the important future for health visitors. I agree: when I was a new mum, the health visitor arriving each day was a really valuable service. That support from the health visitor was essential in starting me off on my parenting journey. I understand that the Minister is personally committed to developing that workforce, not only in numbers but in their range of skills, and that she is looking at what further roles they may play in providing this important training to new parents. Her suggestion that we work on that is really positive.
I will certainly take up the opportunity to evaluate the first aid courses that are available in my community in Cornwall and the impact that they are having not only on families, but on our local NHS. My hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham warns me that the forms can be very long and that it can be an arduous process, but we will certainly give it a go. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend the Minister to do what all of us in this room want: to make sure that parents of any age get the best possible support in starting that amazing journey of being parents, so that all their children grow up to be healthy and happy, and we avoid all preventable deaths and injuries.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered infant first aid training for parents.