Five major agencies including the Canadian Red Cross and the Heart and Stroke Foundation are implementing major changes to first aid and CPR practices — all aimed at preparing people better and increasing survival rates. 

"We are in the business of saving lives," said David Sculthorpe, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation in a statement.

"The Canadian First Aid and CPR Guidelines are based on the newest techniques and approaches to increase survival rates. Our goal is to empower Canadians to be ready, willing and able to act in the event of a medical emergency."

Some of the new recommendations are being rolled out across the country in the first-ever national conference focused on the life-saving science of first aid and resuscitation being held this week in Toronto.

The changes, which were first introduced last October, were suggested after the following organizations reviewed first aid and CPR practices: Red Cross, Heart and Stroke, St. John Ambulance, Canadian Ski Patrol and the Lifesaving Society.

'We can do some things a little bit better'

"It's exciting for Canada that we have all the five national training agencies that are signing off and putting their logo on these new Canadian consensus guidelines on first aid and CPR," said Ian Fitzpatrick, co-ordinator of regulatory compliance for the Canadian Red Cross.

"From a first aid point of view, what we have been doing in the past is not wrong but I think we're starting to see evidence that says we can do some things a little bit better." 

Here are a few of the changes: 

  • Cuts and abrasions: The recommended way to disinfect a wound is no longer to use soap and water but to rinse a cut under clean running water for five minutes. 
  • Severe allergic reactions: New guidelines recommend a second dose of epinephrine from an auto-injector pen if there's no sign of improvement within five to 10 minutes of the first dose.
  • Head injuries: When someone receives a blow to the head, they should immediately stop whatever activity they are doing and seek medical aid — even if they're not displaying symptoms.
  • Adults with chest pain: Should chew (not swallow whole) one regular or two low-dose Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) tablets while waiting for emergency medical assistance — except for those with an allergy to ASA or who have bleeding disorders.
  • Neck injuries: Application of a cervical collar is no longer recommended "because the collars can cause complications and discomfort." It's now recommended to manually support a person's head to prevent movement until medical professionals arrive.

Tens of thousands suffer heart attacks a year

The guidelines are updated every five years to reflect the latest scientific research by a task force which includes the five national training agencies.

An estimated 70,000 heart attacks and up to 40,000 cardiac arrests happen in Canada each year. 

According to a recent survey by Nielsen Consumer Insights for the Red Cross, 80 to 87 per cent of Canadian adults feel confident when responding to minor injuries like cuts and nosebleeds.

However, the percentage of people who feel confident helping in a medical emergency drops to 50 per cent for a heart attack or other cardiac emergency, 48 per cent for a severe allergic reaction, 47 per cent for a concussion, 42 per cent for a stroke and 33 per cent for a psychotic episode.

The online Nielsen survey was conducted from Jan. 8 to Jan. 15, among 1,001 Canadians aged 18 or older.