First aid is the provision of initial care for an illness or injury. It is usually performed by non-experts (or sometimes by an expert in case of an emergency), but trained personnel to a sick or injured person until definitive medical treatment can be accessed. Certain self-limiting illnesses or minor injuries may not require further medical care past the first aid intervention. It consists of a series of simple and in some cases, potentially life-saving techniques that an individual can be trained to perform with minimal equipment.

There is very little information about prehistoric man and they must have been challenged by many situations requiring first aid. For example, they must have developed ways to stop bleeding, to stabilise broken bones or to determine whether a particular plant was poisonous or not.

Over time, certain individuals became more skilful and conversant about how to deal with medical circumstances. These might have been the first shamans and witch doctors. Perhaps this was also the beginning of the distinction between medical care, which could be provided by the layperson. The distinction continued to develop as medical education, and training became more organised. In time, priests became physicians, and barbers became the surgeons.

The earliest historical evidence of first aid application was in the 1099 where first aid was administered by religious knights who organised the order of St. John, such as the Knights Hospitaller who provided care to pilgrims and knights who were injured during battles. They also trained other knights in how to treat common battlefield injuries. No evidence of First aid practise was seen until the High Middle Ages. In 1859 Jean-Henri Dunant organised the local villagers to help victims of the Battle of Solferino, which included the provision of first aid. 1863, four nations met in Geneva and formed the organisation that has grown into the Red Cross, with a communal aim of “aid to sick and wounded soldiers in the field” . In 1877 St. John Ambulance was formed, based on the principles of the Knights Hospitaller, to teach first aid, and numerous other organisations joined them with the term first aid first coined in 1878 as civilian ambulance services spread as a combination of “first treatment” and “national aid” in large railway centres and mining districts as well as with police forces. In 1878 Surgeon-Major Peter Shepherd, together with Colonel Francis Duncan established the concept of teaching first aid skills to civilians. Shepherd, together with a Dr Coleman, gave the first class in first aid at the hall of the Presbyterian school in Woolwich. He used a comprehensive first aid curriculum that he had developed himself. It was Shepherd who first used the English term “first aid for the injured” First aid training began to spread through the empire through organisations such as St. John, often starting, as in the UK, with high risk activities such as ports and railways.

But it was not until the mid-19th century that the First International Geneva Convention was held, and the Red Cross was created to provide “aid to sick and wounded soldiers in the field.” Soldiers were trained to treat their fellow soldiers before the medics arrived.

The term ” first aid” first appeared in 1878 as a combination of “first treatment” and “National Aid.” In Britain, civilian ambulance crews were trained specifically for the railways, mines, and the police.

The practical skills of first aid have continued to evolve, and there has been somewhat of a separation between first aid and emergency medicine. Today, ambulances in this country are staffed by personnel are familiar with first aid and also have more advanced training as paramedics.

The American Civil War (1861 to 1865), which prompted Clara Barton to organise the American Red Cross. New techniques and equipment have helped make today’s first aid simple and effective.

The ABC’s (Airway, Breathing, and Circulation) revert back to the late 1950s, when an Austrian physician, Paul Safar, wrote a book about CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation), which was known as ABC of Resuscitation. CPR is an emergency process which is done in an attempt to manually protect intact brain function until further measures are taken to reinstate normal blood circulation and breathing in a person who is unconscious and not breathing. Later, Safar introduced his findings at a medical conference, where the term ABC’s of CPR became renowned. Later, the American Heart Association adopted the process along with the whole medical society in 1973. In 2010, the American Heart Association opts to spotlight CPR on dropping disturbances to compressions and has altered the order in its guiding principle to Circulation, Airway, and Breathing (CAB).

In the UK today First Aid is taught in many places and the recent use of AED (Automated External Defibrillators) are used extensively in public places such as airports, hotels, colleges, health centres and hospitals.