Taking part in the Compulsory Emergency First Aid Education Bill

Michelle Donelan (Chippenham) (Con): Watch the video HERE.

May I also commend the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) for introducing this Bill?

Today’s debate is not really about whether we should overload the curriculum; it is about what the true objective of our education system is. What is the purpose of the curriculum in the first place? I urge Members to sit back and think about what that objective might be. Is it to produce meaningless statistics and grades, or to produce the citizens of tomorrow, to safeguard our children and give them the best shot at life? Every year, 150,000 people die when first aid could have made a difference and saved them.

The national curriculum officially creates a minimum expectation for the content of school curriculums. Are we really saying that ensuring that our young people have the confidence and skills to save lives is not a minimum expectation? More than 30,000 people have a cardiac arrest outside of hospital every year in the UK, but fewer than one in 10 survive. We have heard that lifesaving skills can be taught in personal, social, health and economic education; however, as we all know, PSHE is not compulsory. We also hear that schools should have the freedom to choose to teach it, yet only approximately 24% schools exercise that freedom. Are we really happy to send a message that saving lives is less important than maths, music, art or history? Seriously, what are we coming to—not as MPs but as people?

I welcome the current assistance from the Department for Education to help schools to buy defibrillators. As of last week, 787 schools had purchased one under the scheme, and it is my aim to ensure that every school in my constituency has one by the next election.

Mrs Sheryll Murray:

Having seen a portable defibrillator, I know that they are very explicit and that they also allow an electrocardiogram to be carried out before CPR. Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that people can do a lot of harm by trying to administer CPR when it is not needed?

Michelle Donelan:

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Defibrillators are extremely easy to use. The problem that we have in this country is a lack of confidence surrounding their use, which is what the Bill is trying to correct.

I was delighted that, in this year’s Budget, £1 million was dedicated to buying defibrillators for use in public spaces and schools and for training, but what is the point of doing that if people do not have the confidence to use them? Recent surveys show that the primary reason that people are deterred from intervening in any first aid situation is a lack of confidence and knowledge. We also need to stop ignoring the industry experts. St John Ambulance, the British Red Cross and the British Heart Foundation have all campaigned for this change in the law for a number of years. Let us also consider the practicalities. As we have heard, this training would take up a very small amount of time in the school curriculum.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con):

The hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) referred earlier to the report on PHSE that the Education Committee produced earlier this year. He did not mention, however, that the report stopped short of recommending an extension of the school day to accommodate putting this extra training on a statutory footing. Does my hon. Friend agree with the idea of extending the school day in order to make this vital addition to the curriculum?

Michelle Donelan:

I think we are straying off the topic of the Bill. We really would not need to extend the school day to fit this training in. As we have heard, it will take a very small amount of time each year.

I have already stated that this ability to save lives is as crucial as maths, English and science. Free packs are available from the British Heart Foundation, which would help to reduce costs. Many organisations in the charity sector have already promised to help to put this course in place. So this really is necessary, achievable and cost-effective. It is also the moral thing to do. There is no point in trying to enrich the lives of our young people through the education system unless we are also helping to prolong and save them too.

To be honest, the statistics speak for themselves. As I have said, 30,000 people have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year, but only one in 10 survives. If more people knew how to do CPR or use a defibrillator, survival rates could increase to 50%. The survival rate in the UK is poor and highly variable, but today we have an opportunity to make a real difference. First aid is a true life skill, and the Bill aims to make every child a life-saver. Ensuring that life-saving skills are taught in schools would instil in children how valuable life is and how important it is to be a good citizen. We must consider the wider ramifications of the Bill and its value for society.

All surveys indicate huge support from parents and young people, with some showing that up to 95% of parents support this training in secondary schools. Coupled with a host of case studies from around the world, this provides a strong argument for the Bill. Indeed, we are very much lagging behind other countries in this regard. In the USA, 36 states have passed legislation to ensure that youngsters learn emergency skills. It is also on the curriculum in France, Denmark and Norway, where survival rates have also increased.

I want all Members to think long and hard today about what our education system is really for. If they believe it is about creating citizens and building a strong society for tomorrow, they must support the Bill. Our voters have placed their trust in us as their representatives and we have a moral duty to ensure that every person is given the best shot at life, but investing in equipment is no good unless people have the confidence to use it. To conclude, I echo the words of Dr Andy Lockey of the Resuscitation Council when he said that teaching emergency life support skills in schools and in the community is

“a no brainer, it’s just common sense”.