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A hospital trauma consultant has taken on a new role that aims to save lives in the event of a terrorist attack or other mass casualty incident.
Ian Pallister has become Welsh ambassador for the UK-wide citizenAID charity, which was established in 2017.
It was set up by a group of civilian and military clinicians to prepare people, communities and organisations to help themselves and each other when there are multiple casualties – particularly from deliberate attacks.
Professor Pallister is a trauma consultant at Morriston and runs the MSc programme in trauma surgery at Swansea University Medical School.
In 2016 he won a national award for his pioneering work creating realistic models of bomb blast victims used to give military surgeons fully immersive training before they reach the front line.
He created a university spin-off company, Trauma Simulation Limited, to develop a range of training models that can also be used by medical students and by NHS staff.
Now Professor Pallister is leading the campaign in Wales to raise awareness of citizenAID and how people can help save lives following deliberate attacks.
He said: “The driver for this is the ever-present danger of mass casualty events, principally of a terrorist nature, and trying to enable the public to provide useful care to people before the emergency services can arrive.
“For example, with the London Bridge attacks, people were hiding for several hours before it became clear it was safe for them to emerge, even though the threat was actually neutralised within a matter of a few minutes.
“So the concept behind it is to teach people what to do, how to communicate to the emergency services, and then, if they are with an injured casualty and in a position to help, the important first steps.”
One of the key resources citizenAid has made available is a free app providing step-by-step information on how the public can act to stay safe and save the lives of the injured.
There are clear, simple instructions on how to prioritise the injured, how to deal with life-threatening bleeding and how to communicate with the 999 services in a structured way.
The app has been updated to include information on vehicle and acid attacks, alongside shooting, stabbing and bombing incidents.
Professor Pallister said: “It’s not about training people as skilled first responders. It’s about having information there for them to look at, communicate effectively and be able help people.
“The way the advice is presented is pictorial with short bits of text conveying key messages.
“It’s almost like flat-pack furniture instructions with the distinction that you can actually follow them very easily.
“The charity also has teaching materials for different ages of schoolchildren. These are very carefully tailored for different levels of understanding.
“However, the guiding principles are not to scare people but to prepare them at any age for how to keep themselves safe and do simple things to help each other.”
To gauge the level of awareness, locally to begin with, of citizenAID, Professor Pallister worked with two Swansea University Medical Students, Jordan Cazier and Sam James.
They discovered that awareness of the charity among university students was poor – only around one in five people had heard of it. And of those, only about half had downloaded the app.
That was followed by a citizenAID event at the university, attended by around 40 medical, nursing and allied healthcare profession students.
They used specially-created models to learn how to apply pressure to control bleeding, pack wounds and improvise tourniquets.
Support was provided by senior doctors from the EMRTS (Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer Service) Cymru – the “Flying Medics”.
Professor Pallister said confidence in citizenAID techniques improved dramatically.
Feedback from some of the students who attended included ‘very realistic scenarios and models’ and ‘really good, matter of fact teaching’.
Professor Pallister will now look at ways of promoting the charity’s work around Wales generally – which could involve holding a series of public events similar to those which have already taken place in Scotland.
He added: “Everybody I’ve ever spoken to about mass casualty events has always said they never thought they would ever be involved in anything like it.
“When people are living with the physical and non-physical effects, it is important to look back on it and think, ‘I did my best. I don’t think anybody else with my skills and knowledge could have done much better’.
“The ethos is to help people prepare and not be scared. The odds of it happening to anyone are incredibly small.
“But the techniques that are applicable to helping people in mass casualty situations could be equally applicable if you find yourself first on the scene after a really bad motorcycle accident.
“Sadly those things do happen as well. The lessons translate really well into those more everyday circumstances.”
You can find out more about citizenAID and the app here: