Giving First Aid Treatment
Firstly, we must act in the best interests of the casualty. This affords the casualty the right to refuse treatment by a first aider, if they are presumed “to have the capacity to make their own decisions unless proved otherwise” [Mental Capacities Act 2005]
This is why we must always ask permission of a conscious casualty before we treat them in any way, as if they do not consent, we can go no further.
If a casualty is unresponsive however, we can imply consent to treating any life threatening injuries or illnesses only, as this would be considered to be in the best interests of the casualty.
Assuming we either have, or have assumed, consent. Your actions should not be negligent, you should only do what you have been trained to do, and what is reasonable in the circumstances.
An example that we often use in this discussion is that a qualified first aider is taught to carry out some potentially damaging techniques, such as rolling an unresponsive casualty into a recovery position in order to manage their airway.
Lots of students question the risk of damage to the neck or back during this procedure, particularly if the casualty has suffered a traumatic injury. They are right to be concerned. It is a reasonable risk to take however, as without rolling the casualty over correctly, the airway is at risk of obstruction, and that is much more immediately threatening to life.
If the first aider’s intervention were considered negligent however, they would be liable for damages if their actions worsened the existing injury, or caused injury that would not otherwise have happened.
What Is Negligence?
Negligence, “is a failure to exercise the appropriate and or ethical ruled care expected to be exercised amongst specified circumstances” [Encyclopedia Britannica. Meriam Webster. 2011]
I.E. In our scenario above, not rolling the unresponsive casualty over when you heard gurgling whilst monitoring their breathing; could be considered as ‘failure to exercise the appropriate care’.
In another example, administering CPR on a casualty who was unresponsive, but effectively breathing, could indeed cause them unnecessary harm. This too could be considered negligent.
What Is Reasonable in the Circumstances?
This is the basis of Common Law, which has been developed over centuries and is based on a system of precedent, whereby previous similar cases are consulted and used to provide guidance as to the court’s decision.
What the reasonable (wo)man would do? In the case of first aid, this might take into account the level of training of the first aider, the context of the emergency, and the first aiders’ ability to make the correct decision in an emergency situation, amongst other things.