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First aid basics

8-minute read

If you’re reading this because there is an emergency, then stop and call triple zero (000). The people you speak to can guide you to provide first aid.

Key facts

  • First aid can help someone who is ill or injured until help arrives.
  • If you are helping someone with first aid, follow the DRSABCD action plan.
  • Consider going to first aid training.
  • Put together a first aid kit for use at home and in the car.

What is first aid?

First aid covers the steps taken to help a person in the first minutes of an illness or injury.

Accidents or illness can happen to anyone at any time, whether at home, at work or at school.

First aid may:

  • ease someone’s pain or discomfort
  • help them recover more quickly
  • save a life

First aid may be useful in many different situations, such as when dealing with:

Why learn first aid?

If you learn the basics of first aid, you might one day save the life of a loved one, colleague or stranger.

First aid might involve a simple action, such as placing a person in the correct position so that they can breathe freely.

It might involve a more skilled activity, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if they have stopped breathing.

It could also involve using an adrenaline autoinjector, such as an EpiPen, if they are having an allergic reaction. Some situations require specific first aid.

Some situations can be treated with first aid alone. Other times you may need help from your doctor or hospital emergency department. If there is an emergency, you should call triple zero. The triple zero phone operator can give you specific first aid advice for your situation. You can do first aid until the ambulance arrives.

You can also get first aid advice from the Australian Red Cross First Aid app.

The DRSABCD action plan

If you have completed a first aid course, you will be familiar with the DRSABCD action plan. You can remember them by thinking “Doctor’s ABCD” (for DRS ABCD).

Each letter is a prompt for the actions to take when first aid is needed.

Letter Representing What to do
D Danger Ensure that the patient and everyone in the area is safe. Do not put yourself or others at risk. Remove the danger or the patient.
R Response Look for a response from the patient — loudly ask their name or squeeze their shoulder.
S Send for help If there is no response, phone triple zero (000) or ask another person to call. Do not leave the patient.
A Airway Check their mouth and throat are clear.

If there is foreign material, roll the patient on their side and clear their airway.

If there is no foreign material, leave them in the position you found them in. Gently tilt their head back and lift their chin to clear their airway.

B Breathing Check if the person is breathing abnormally or not breathing at all after 10 seconds.
If they are breathing normally, place them in the recovery position and stay with them.
If they are not breathing normally, call an ambulance and start CPR.
C CPR Start CPR: 30 chest compressions followed by 2 breaths. Continue CPR until the patient starts breathing or until help arrives.
D Defibrillation As soon as possible, attach an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to the patient. Follow the voice prompts. Do not leave the patient alone to fetch the defibrillator — let someone else bring it.

The DRSABCD action plan is a useful tool in first aid. But you will manage even better if you have training in how to perform each action.

Where to learn first aid

If you want to learn first aid, there are plenty of courses available. Different courses run for different lengths of time, and can be run:

  • publicly
  • at a chosen venue, such as your place of work
  • online

Organisations that offer courses and certificates in first aid and CPR include:

You may also get your own first aid kits for your home and car.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2022

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