Dismal fate for cardiac arrest victims as more than half of people fail to act

16 October 2015        

Someone learning how to do CPR on a manikin

When someone suffers a cardiac arrest, less than half of people perform life saving CPR, dramatically reducing their chance of survival, according to BHF-funded research at the University of Warwick.

Bystander to lifesaver

The researchers revealed that bystanders who witness a cardiac arrest only perform CPR in four out of ten cases, meaning the majority of victims have little chance of survival. 

This compares with intervention rates almost three quarters (73%) in Norway, where survival rates are up to three times as high.

Research has shown that every minute without CPR or defibrillation can reduce a person’s chance of survival by around ten per cent but victims often have to wait several minutes because of the public’s lack of knowledge and fear of helping. After ten minutes without CPR or defibrillation a victim can have at best a two per cent chance of surviving.

What stops people from intervening?

Our survey reveals some of the barriers to people helping:

  • The majority (62%) of UK adults said they would be worried about knowing what to do if they witnessed someone collapse and suffer a cardiac arrest in front of them
  •  59% of those who were worried said they feared they would make things worse by trying to help
  • Only 20% of people were able to correctly identify the 6 signs that someone has had a cardiac arrest 
  • Just over a third (37%) of people would be confident in performing immediate CPR if someone suffered a cardiac arrest in front of them. 

In many cases where people do take action, bystanders have to be prompted by emergency service operators to act, delaying vital CPR and further reducing the chance of survival. 

With more than 30,000 out of hospital cardiac arrests in the UK every year, but less than one in ten surviving, the failure by bystanders to intervene is needlessly costing lives every day. 

Mission CPR

To tackle this needless loss of life, today we're launching our MISSION:CPR campaign that will see thousands of schoolchildren learn CPR on the day. 

  • More than 30,000 schoolchildren are learning how to recognise a cardiac arrest and perform CPR
  • We have announced a partnership with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service that will see CPR training become available to every community in Scotland
  • We're teaming up with the Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and North West Ambulance Service to improve survival rates in the area and make CPR training available to communities.
  • Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust are visiting 88 secondary schools across the county to train 20,000 schoolchildren in CPR using our Call Push Rescue kit.

MISSION:CPR is part of our Nation of Lifesavers campaign which aims to equip all young people and adults with the CPR skills to save a life.  Since its launch one year ago, more than 1,300 schools across the UK have been given free CPR training kits to teach young people how to save a life. 


Simon Gillespie, our Chief Executive, said: “When someone collapses after a cardiac arrest, every second counts. Knowing simple, CPR skills is vital to ensure that every person has the best chance of survival. It is therefore a huge concern that so few people have the skills and confidence to perform CPR and this is undoubtedly costing lives. Today, more than 35,000 young people will learn CPR across the country. But we need to do more. We urge every school in the country to teach life saving CPR by applying for our free Call Push Rescue training programme.”

Professor Gavin Perkins, from the University of Warwick, said: “Community response to cardiac arrests is absolutely critical to saving lives. Analysis shows that the number of people who attempt resuscitation is less in the UK than in other European countries and as a consequence survival rates here are much lower. Thousands of lives could be saved every year if bystander CPR rates in the UK improved.”

We are the UK’s largest independent funder of cardiovascular research. Alongside our programme to improve survival from out of hospital cardiac arrests, we are funding world leading research to find new ways of identifying and treating people at high risk of having a cardiac arrest to prevent people suffering these deadly events. 

To help us create a Nation of Lifesavers and support our life saving research visit bhf.org.uk/lifesavers