Date Published: 24 August 2017

First Aid knowledge could help to reduce pressure on UK Accident and Emergency Departments

Recent research commissioned by British Red Cross and conducted by the University of the West of England, Bristol and the University of Bristol has found that 34.1% of people who went to accident and emergency (A&E) hospital departments did so to seek help because they were "worried and didn't know what to do".

The research was conducted in three A&E departments and one walk-in centre, with additional interviews of health service professionals. It combined qualitative and quantitative research methods, including analysis of 61 documents, a survey of 176 people who were using A&E services, 11 interviews with survey participants, two focus groups with potential users of A&E, and interviews with 23 healthcare staff.

The information revealed by the study includes:

  • 34.1% of the people who responded to the survey said that they attended A&E because they were "worried and didn't know what to do".
  • 58.5% of the people who responded to the survey reported that they had sought advice before going to A&E, e.g. from their GP surgery (18.2%) or a relative (11.9%).
  • Many of the people interviewed as part of this study expressed a desire to use A&E services appropriately but didn't always know if a health problem required urgent care.

According to the survey common reasons for visiting an A&E Department at a hospital were pain, falls and other types of accidents resulting in minor injuries and concerns about how best to manage fever in children.

The healthcare workers interviewed for the study suggested that more patients could begin by helping themselves with simple first aid knowledge and techniques, such as taking simple medicines to reduce pain or fever. Some of the professional health workers expressed views that some patients were not taking medication or that parents were avoiding giving pain relief to children due to a belief that doctors need to witness an illness at its worst point.

Overall the healthcare workers who participated in the study identified seven categories of patients who use A&E frequently and might benefit from first aid interventions. Those categories are:

  • Patients with long-term health conditions, including mental illness
  • Children / parents of young children
  • Older people, especially those who are frail or have multiple health needs
  • People who use substances
  • People referred to A&E by their employer or a first-aider at work
  • People receiving health and social care at home or in community settings
  • The general public experiencing self-limiting infections and minor injuries

One conclusion drawn from this study is that first aid education can contribute to supporting the work of the NHS and especially A&E Departments by empowering members of the general public with greater knowledge and confidence in areas such as:

  • How to use over-the-counter medicines
  • How to self-manage minor illnesses and injuries at home
  • How to navigate effectively the complex range of urgent care services available

Joe Mulligan, British Red Cross head of first aid education, said:

" Clearer public information and first aid education could help people access the right type of care at the right point in time – which could ease some of the pressure on A&E, and reduce patient suffering.
_ What's worrying is that there is a lot of confusion, with many people unsure how to correctly assess their health issue and unable to navigate the health system accordingly. The research shows that patients are seeking advice before attending A&E, highlighting how difficult it is for people to work out which service best suits their needs.
_ Ultimately we would like everyone to have the opportunity to learn first aid at key stages throughout their lives, starting at school. This would help to equip a generation of people with the first aid skills they need to help in an emergency

Dr Matthew Booker, NIHR Doctoral Research Fellow in the Bristol Medical School said:

" This research suggests that it can be quite difficult for people to decide where best to go for advice and help when faced with a perceived urgent health problem. This can be particularly challenging for parents and carers.
_ This work supports the idea that the modern definition of "first aid" should include skills to aid self-care and manage minor illness. Additionally, first aid education that helps people to understand how, where and - crucially - how urgently to seek help may assist services with the ever-increasing pressures

Ref. to Report:
The report, 'The role of first aid education to support people attending urgent care services' is accompanied by a summary report by British Red Cross, 'Easing the pressure on A&E: Could first aid education help?' The full report and summary can be accessed via

Sources incl. :  Bristol University, England (UK)

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