Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill

Written evidence submitted by St John Ambulance (SA 03)


St John Ambulance welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the consultation on the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism (SARAH) Bill . In this submission we will concentrate on clause 4 which deals with heroic acts.

St John Ambulance is the nation’s leading first aid charity. Our vision is that everyone who needs it should receive first aid from those around them. No one should suffer for the lack of trained first aiders. We teach young people both in and outside of school, train people in the workplace, provide life saving equipment and work in wider communities to teach life saving skills. Our charity also trains volunteers who then offer their first aid skills and their time to work at public events, as first responders in communities or providing back up to local ambulance services.

We welcome the Government’s wish to support those who come to the assistance of people who are in trouble, so that more people come forward to help their fellow citizens. However, we have two major concerns. First, we are unconvinced that the SARAH Bill will have a major impact in encouraging wider first aid practice without additional, linked, activity (see pages 2-4 below). Second, we have deep concerns about the wording of clause 4, which contradicts first aid good practice (see pages 4-5).

Too scared to act? The evidence

1. In the Second Reading debate it was noted that some emergency bystanders have claimed that the reason why they did not help was that they were worried that they would be sued. This evidence is anecdotal, but there are previous findings from NatCen Social Research and the Institute for Volunteering Research that indicate that would-be volunteers are put off because of worries about risk and liability.

2. Emergency situations can be dirty or unpleasant. Bystanders may feel squeamish if blood is involved or if limbs are badly cut or have beco me deformed. In those instances it is possible that people may feel it is more socially acceptable to say th ey did not act because they feared being sued, thus protecting themselves against other criticism.

3. We would be concerned if the public had interpreted the SARAH Bill to imply that first aid knowledge was not important. We commissioned research from IC M [1] to clarify barriers to performing first aid, and whether the SARAH Bill would reduce these. We asked respondents to describe their current level of first aid skills, to consider their response to three first aid scenarios (a minor injury, a severe but non life-threatening injury, a life-threatening injury), to identify which of a number of factors might deter them from administering first aid, and whether SARAH would make them more or less likely to provide first aid or whether it would make no difference. Fieldwork was carried out online on 2,035 people aged 18 years and over in Great Britain; it took place on 22-25 August 2014.

4. Our findings are that the key factor that determines people’s likelihood of acting is having been on a first aid course: for example, 5 7 % of those with advanced knowledge of first aid would step forward in the case of a life-threatening injury, whereas 32 % of those with no knowledge would not administer first aid at all.

5. The more recently people are trained in first aid is also a factor: in the case of a life-threatening injury those whose training took place more than five years ago were more likely (33%) than those who had completed training more recently ( 16% of those who had learned first aid within the last 12 months) to say they would administer first aid only if there was no other help available.

6. The primary reason why people are deterred from intervening in any situation requiring first aid is not concerns about legal repercussions (34%) , but lack of confidence of their first aid knowledge (63%) . For those who had attended a first aid course this latter proportion fell to 28%. The second highest deterrent is the severity of the injury.

7. Given that significant proportions of the research population completed first aid training over five years ago (30%) or have never completed any first aid training (43%, rising to 53% among 18-24 year-olds) it would seem that the highest priority in creating a nation of first aiders should be for more people to receive training, especially the young – yet the Government chose not to make first aid a mandatory part of the National Curriculum.

8. There are some splits in response by region and age. For example, 49% of respondents in the East Midlands were concerned about legal repercussions but only 27% in London. Young people were more likely to be concerned about whether they knew the person concerned (14% of 18-24s) but this fell steadily across age groups to reach just 6% of those aged 65-plus.

9. We asked respondents whether the SARAH Bill would make them more or less likely to administer first aid. From our sample, 18% said they would be more likely, 14% would be less likely (ie. a 4% net positive outcome) and 68% said it would make no difference.

10. The overall 4% outcome can be broken down further:














Current knowledge of first aid

Advanced knowledge (undertaken a course)


Basic knowledge of first aid (read a guide or watched a demo)


No knowledge









11. We are encouraged that those with first aid training would as a result of the SARAH Bill be more likely to step forward. However the benefits do appear to be relatively small, except among the youngest age group.

12. Respondents with no first aid knowledge are less likely under the SARAH Bill to step forward. In one sense this is encouraging since they could make an emergency situation worse. However, it is also clear that if the SARAH Bill seeks to promote altruistic first acts then more needs to be done to promote first aid training.

13. There is no doubt that first aid training providers can do more to explain the current legal situation to those people who attend their courses.

14. First aid is a specific act and our questions were designed to elicit responses about first aid. Care should be taken when using this research to describe attitudes towards other forms of volunteering.

First Aid practice

15. Clause 4 of the SARAH Bill refers to individuals acting ‘without regard to the person’s own safety or other interests’. This is contrary to first aid practice – for example, the First Aid Manual [2] states: ‘Protect yourself and any casualties from danger – never put yourself at risk’ (p.14)

16. We cannot support this clause in its current form.

Clause 4

17. If the SARAH Bill is to have a significant impact, it needs to encourage people to gain life saving skills.

18. One way in which this could be done – at the same time fixing the problem with Clause 4 as it currently stands, would be to replace the words and without regard to the person’s own safety or other interests with words which encourage citizens to learn first aid .

September 2014

[1] On behalf of St John Ambulance, ICM interviewed a random sample of 2,035 adults aged 18+ via online between 22nd - 25th August. Surveys were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at

[2] St John Ambulance, St Andrew’s First Aid, British Red Cross Society (2014). First Aid Manual. 10th Edition. London: Dorling Kindersley

Prepared 5th September 2014