Bystander CPR can double a person’s chances of survival if they suffer a cardiac arrest. However, in recent years studies have revealed a worrying picture: In the event of an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, women are less likely to receive bystander CPR compared to men.

This discrepancy has been attributed to people not recognising the signs of cardiac arrest in women, an embarrassment of touching women and to fears of causing women harm.

Nicola Cooper teaches Magpas Air Ambulance Community CPR

Magpas Air Ambulance has been teaching people of all ages in schools, community groups and businesses the vital skill of CPR and how to use a defibrillator since 2019, with the aim to equip as many people as possible with the knowledge and confidence to act in an emergency.

These CPR sessions have proven extremely successful, with 100% of trainees reporting to feel confident that they could provide someone with effective CPR in a real emergency.

But how can we turn that ‘could’ into ‘would’ when it comes to women?

Nicola Cooper
Nicola Cooper

Magpas Air Ambulance’s Community CPR trainer, Nicola Cooper, explains “An important part of the training I provide is dealing with people’s concerns around touching people who are unable to consent, and I hear this more frequently voiced when it comes to performing CPR on women. We discuss these concerns during our training sessions. I reiterate that at the point CPR is needed, a patient’s heart has stopped beating and CPR is likely to be their only chance of survival... With every second of hesitation, this chance decreases.

“Women in these groups speak up telling us that if they were found in cardiac arrest, they wouldn’t want a rescuer to have any delay or concerns about starting CPR to save them. We also discuss that no one has ever been successfully sued for providing CPR in the UK.”

Providing a safe space for training participants to talk openly about these worries and have them addressed helps build people’s confidence to act in an emergency, which is just as important as recognising the signs of a cardiac arrest and learning how to help potentially save a life.

Nicola believes that having more female CPR trainers could also be part of the solution. She explains, “Improving understanding around this issue is the responsibility of everyone, but as a female trainer I have been able to build relationships with some groups who might have found being trained by a male a barrier to learning this vitally important skill.”

Nicola teaching CPR on Restart a Heart Day at Cambridge Central Mosque, alongside staff from Addenbrooke's Hospital and EEAST Ambulance Service
Nicola teaching CPR on Restart a Heart Day at Cambridge Central Mosque, alongside staff from Addenbrooke's Hospital and EEAST Ambulance Service

This has led to Nicola being able to have open conversations and raise awareness of the importance of CPR, with people who may otherwise feel unable to talk freely on the topic.

Nicola continues, “I have now worked with women and children’s groups at the Cambridge Central Mosque, providing private training where they could openly ask questions. I also worked with a small group of young women who had experienced war in their home country and were experiencing psychological distress relating to medical trauma experiences. More recently I attended Women’s Aid in Luton, working with a diverse group of women speaking Bengali, Punjabi, Arabic and Urdu, among English-speaking learners.

“Some women we work with have never undertaken training or education of any sort and are delighted by their learning achievements. The response to Magpas Air Ambulance’s Community CPR training, particularly when using our language aids is something I am particularly proud of.”

Gaby Price, Women’s Aid in Luton Chief Executive Officer, explains “Through a fantastic collaboration, Magpas Air Ambulance has equipped Women’s Aid in Luton with lifesaving CPR training. Their expertly delivered training has ignited a profound realisation that lives hang in the balance when CPR is not performed. We now fully understand that every second counts during a cardiac emergency. Without timely intervention, oxygen-starved brains suffer irreversible damage. The stark truth is that countless lives slip away needlessly due to the absence of CPR. But now, armed with knowledge and confidence, we are poised to change this narrative.

“Both our dedicated staff and the beneficiaries of Women’s Aid in Luton have emerged with newfound confidence in performing CPR. Inspired by the training, we are committed to enhancing our preparedness by sourcing a defibrillator. The impact of this CPR training has been truly life-changing. We wholeheartedly encourage other organisations to seize this opportunity and empower their communities with this vital skill. Together, we can make a real difference and save lives.”

By initiating open conversations within the charity’s daily Community CPR sessions, alongside Nicola’s work amongst communities that are just beginning to understand the significance of CPR, Magpas Air Ambulance aims to remove the barriers that prevent women from receiving this lifesaving intervention and emphasize the critical importance of administering CPR to anyone experiencing an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.