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New research published by St John Ambulance has revealed that that there is a real reluctance amongst the general public to help save someone’s life in an emergency, with one in three people unwilling to help someone out of fear of being sued.
The research is part of a consultation into the proposed Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill (SARAH) which, in theory, aims to prevent those who help save someone’s life from being sued if things go wrong. In reality, as I have previously blogged, the protections awarded by the bill are already covered by existing legislation.
Instead, the new bill aims to influence behaviour rather than change the law. It wants to send a message to the courts that they should consider the intention behind a negligence claim when weighing up the evidence and also reassure the general public that the government is acting in their interests.
The entire bill is, however, based on the perception that we have a ‘compensation culture’ that is widely out of control, as well as an apparently oppressive health and safety culture. I would strongly challenge both of these assumptions.
The government is playing to the demands of the media by outwardly putting in place an unneeded ‘solution’ for a problem which has been sensationalised. During the review of the bill, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), which represents thousands of charities, warned that a fear of being sued was stopping people from volunteering. As a consequence, people are so anxious that they will fall victim to this suffocating ‘compensation culture’ and end up involved in legal action that they are unwilling to help someone at all. The perception that we are in the grip of a compensation culture is, as NCVO’s executive director Justin Davis Smith warns,“just as big a deterrent as if there was a reality of a compensation culture”.
The research from St John Ambulance found that two thirds of people lack confidence in their first aid skills. Instead of investing money and effort in establishing virtually meaningless legislation, the government should put in place a range of measures to help people gain the confidence to save lives in the first place, such as improved first aid in schools.
St John Ambulance and the NCVO have recognised the real issues required to build a society where people come to the aid of others. It would be far more effective if the government focused on developing real solutions rather than pandering to the tired myth of a ‘compensation culture’.
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