A person may collapse, resulting in the need for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR).

How you can help

1.      Assess dangers

  • Only approach the collapsed person if you believe that it is safe to do so.
  • Check for any danger in the immediate area, especially traffic, electrical hazards, etc..

2.      Is the patient responsive?

  • If it is safe to continue, check for response by giving a simple command, then grasp and squeeze the shoulders firmly.
  • Use simple commands such as ‘Can you hear me?’, ‘Open your eyes’, ‘What’s your name?’, ‘Squeeze my hand; let it go’ to find whether they can respond to you in any way.
  • Moving or making a noise is regarded as a response. If the patient responds, then gently and quickly assess the cause of the apparent collapse.

A person who may have taken an excessive amount of alcohol or drugs could be aggressive and react unexpectedly. Avoid  being too close to the patient if you are unsure of your safety.

If there is no response to your voice or touch, the patient is unresponsive and in danger of dying because of their airway becoming blocked.

{Tagline Image}

3.      Send for help  

  • Call 111 for an ambulance or send someone else to call.
  • It is important to call an ambulance as soon as possible so that advanced resuscitation assistance is on its way.

Remember – you will be keeping the person alive with CPR, but they need additional care to start their heart.

If you are on your own, and a phone is handy, call 111 for an ambulance before you start CPR. If portable, bring the phone with you to the patient.

4.      Open and clear the Airway

  • When a person is unresponsive their muscles relax. The tongue is a muscle and so relaxes. This is dangerous because the back of the tongue can flop downwards against the back of the airway and block it. This means the patient cannot breathe.

In any unresponsive person it is important to open the airway:

  • Leave the unresponsive person in the position found to open and clear the airway.
  • Tilt the head back and lift the chin.
  • If you see anything in the patient’s mouth, use two fingers to sweep it out.
{Tagline Image}

5.      Check to see whether the patient is breathing normally

When the airway is open and clear, check for normal breathing:

  • Look and feel for movement of the lower chest and upper abdomen and for the escape of air from the patient’s mouth or nose.
  • Listen and feel for air coming from the patient’s mouth or nose.
  • While you check for normal breathing, ignore occasional gasps which are inadequate to maintain life.

If the patient is breathing normally, move them and support them on their side with their head tilted back and continually monitor their breathing.

Note that occasional gasps of air are inadequate to sustain life and should be ignored.

{Tagline Image}

6.      If the patient is not breathing normally, start CPR  

Position the patient on their back:

  • Place the heel of ONE HAND in the centre of the chest.
  • Place the heel of your OTHER HAND directly on top of the first hand.
  • Keep elbows locked and lean over the patient so your arms are straight.
  • Push down hard and fast 30 times (push down one-third of chest depth).
  • Do not worry about pushing too hard – good CPR requires you to push hard and fast.
{Tagline Image}
  • Once you have completed 30 compressions (pushes) on the chest, breathe into the patient’s mouth 2 times.

To breathe into the patient:

  • Tilt the head back with one hand and lift the chin with the other.
  • Take a deep breath and seal your lips around the patient’s mouth.
  • You need to block the nose by pinching the soft part of the nose, or pushing your cheek against the nose.
  • Blow into the patient’s mouth until you see the chest rise.
  • Remove your mouth, take a fresh breath, and blow again into the patient’s mouth.
{Tagline Image}

 Do not give up!


If you have someone to help you, one person can perform the chest compressions while the other person breathes into the patient.

If you are unable to breathe into the patient or are uncomfortable with doing so, just perform chest compressions.

Remember – compressing the chest is the most important part of CPR.

Personal protection during CPR
Ordinary household items (such as handkerchiefs, tissues and tea towels) provide no useful protection from transmission of disease and complicate the process of performing CPR.

Commercially available face masks or face shields and other similar barrier devices may provide some protection from transmission of disease. However:

  • the risk of transmission of disease by CPR is extremely low;
  • first aiders are most likely to have to perform CPR on a relative;
  • such devices may cause the first aider to inappropriately focus on the mouth-to-mouth aspect of CPR (when chest compressions are the most important);
  • such devices complicate the process of performing CPR, and such devices are often not available when CPR is actually required.

If a barrier device is immediately available and you are comfortable using it, then you may choose to use it.

If you are reluctant (or are finding it difficult) to perform the mouth-to-mouth aspect of CPR, perform only chest compressions.

Have the information on hand when you need it the most.
Buy the First Aid Handbook >>

Learn the practical skills to help save a life.
Book a first aid course >>

Buy the St John first aid BookTake a First Aid CourseBuy a St John first aid Kit