In the lead up to the State Election, the Napthine government has pledged some $21 million to teach Year 9 students first aid.
On paper this is impressive: students will be taught “to administer first aid to victims of heart attacks, strokes, burns and other medical emergencies” and Dr Napthine has suggested it will bolster students employability as employers will give preference to new workers with first aid qualifications. Yet the good Doctor’s enthusiasm belies a simple fact: without a properly equipped, staffed and paid ambulance service the efforts of the best first aiders will be thwarted. Without properly funded, equipped and staffed public hospitals our ability to provide full care to casualties is also compromised.
First aiders have a vital role to play in the workplace and the community, providing initial care for the ill or injured until medical help arrives. In the US, several states have now made it a mandatory requirement for high school students to become CPR-certified in order to obtain their high school certificates; various jurisdictions in the EU also require drivers to have basic first aid skills. As the EU Red Cross says, first aid is an act of humanity and so should be encouraged where possible.
However, it is impossible to ignore the emphasis placed upon waiting for ambulance support in the Emergency First Aid and Provide First Aid courses. When teaching first aid we emphasise the necessity of following the Chain of Survival, which urges prompt access to ambulance and advanced life support services (such as those provided by MICA Paramedics). We also make the point that while one can elect to leave out rescue breaths when performing CPR this brings with it a severe risk of brain damage in the casualty, especially in Melbourne where less than three-quarters of top priority calls are able to be met by ambulance crews within 15 minutes. Ambulance Victoria’s refusal to release detailed insights into ambulance response times on the grounds that it would “excite public controversy” is a clear indication that response times are falling behind.
This policy, if enacted, would be of benefit to Victoria and its people – of this there is no doubt. However considering the track-record of the Baillieu and Napthine governments, which have spent much of their time trying to beat back the rights, benefits and conditions of public sector nurses and paramedics, this policy must be seen for what it truly is: a distraction from the ongoing crisis in the public healthcare sector. If this is an achievable policy there should be no reason for the ALP, Greens and whomever else wishes to contest the election to make similar pledges as well. But we must not sell out our health and wellbeing for a gimmicky election promise.
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