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November 2, 2016

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Good Samaritan now safe from legal liabilities

FIRST aid providers in Shanghai will be shielded from legal liability when giving emergency assistance, under a new law that took effect yesterday to encourage the public to be more active in assisting in emergencies.

The regulation, passed by the City Congress in July, says citizens should first immediately call the 120 emergency hotline and can then carry out first aid under the guidance of 120 operators, based on the situation and the first responder’s own abilities.

Citizens with appropriate training can also use automatic external defibrillators installed in public areas on people showing symptoms of cardiac arrest.

The law guarantees legal immunity for citizens assisting at emergencies, even if their efforts inadvertently harm those they are helping.

The law is introduced to protect first aiders, including off-duty professionals such as doctors and nurses, from being sued if something goes wrong.

The threat of legal action had stopped many from rendering assistance in emergencies.

Shanghai’s new measures also want community organizations to encourage citizens to learn first aid, through incentives such as free commercial insurance. Zhu Qinzhong, director of the Shanghai Medical Emergency Center, said the new regulation was helpful in encouraging people not to hesitate in providing emergency help.

In the absence of a national law ensuring protection against legal liability, many people would merely wait for professional medical or rescue workers to arrive rather than stepping in to help, afraid of what could happen to them if they did.

In 2014, a 35-year-old woman died after falling on stairs at a Metro station in Shenzhen, without first aid for 50 minutes.

In an online survey conducted by China Central Television in 2014, only 11.3 percent of those interviewed without medical emergency knowledge said they would come to the rescue of people in an emergency. Most said they would just call 120 and 14.4 percent said they would just leave or stand by and watch.

Even among those with some medical knowledge, only 36.8 percent said they would carry out first aid without hesitation, while 58.2 percent said they would worry about possible trouble and 5 percent said they would definitely not touch a victim in need.

Asked why they would be reluctant to help, 58 percent said they were afraid of legal ramifications. And 36 percent feared they would be accused of being troublemakers.

But 93.9 percent said they would help without hesitation if they were guaranteed of protection from legal problems.

The first few minutes in a medical crisis or emergency are critical. The chances of survival or a full recovery diminish rapidly. First responders can play a critical role until professional help arrives on the scene.

“Take sudden cardiac arrest for example,” Zhu said. “The first four minutes are the best time for rescue. It is called the “golden four minutes.”

“Most of the time, ambulances cannot arrive in such a short time. But if bystanders can carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation for patients when they show the symptoms, they are very likely to be saved.”

The regulation also encourages health authorities and organizations to promote first aid training for citizens and install more related facilities in public places.

Zhu pointed out it is also crucial to implement the regulation here as Chinese citizens are not as skilled as those in developed countries in terms of first aid.

Only about 5 percent of those surveyed said they had received training and held qualifications for emergency first aid. Almost 30 percent said they knew nothing at all.

Zhu encouraged the public to take training as it was not difficult and Shanghai offers such courses through the health authorities and some social organizations.

The city authorities have installed a total of 575 automatic defibrillators in many public places, including the Pudong International Airport, subway stations, shopping malls, office buildings, nursing homes and sports venues.

This year alone, more than 30,000 people have been trained how to use them.


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