A 'Good Samaritan' law allowing bystanders to offer aid in medical emergencies without fear of legal consequences has been approved by the Ministry of Health.
The Rescuer Protection Law - similar to Good Samaritan laws that are in place in other countries - is aimed at boosting survival rates and encouraging the public to help in potentially life-threatening situations.
It is hoped that the draft law will be brought into force soon after being given the green-light by the ministry, which will send it to the Cabinet in the next two weeks.
The Cabinet must approve the draft, which may be subject to changes, before it comes into effect.
“There is strong evidence in scientific literature that early bystander intervention dramatically improves survival rates in many emergencies; using cardiac arrest as an example,” said Dr Saleh Fares, head of the emergency medicine division at the Emirates Medical Association (EMA), who worked closely with the ministry on the draft law.
"This law represents a reassuring maturity in the emergency care development in the country. So the purpose of this law is to ensure that the intervention is helpful.”
Police in Abu Dhabi have previously said it is an offence to provide assistance without being trained in first aid.
This has led to a reluctance on the part of many to get involved when they see someone in need of support, some medics say.
An emergency response instructor told The National in August that people in the country choose not to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) because they fear they could be held responsible if those they help die.
Nicola Liddell, an emergency first response instructor and course director at Divers Down, said a common misconception was that the last person to touch someone in need of help could face prosecution.
“I have heard about people choosing not to help someone who was choking because they were afraid of the consequences,” she said at the time.
Chest compression and other techniques in particular could save the life of a family member, friend or stranger by keeping them alive until paramedics arrive.
Fear of getting involved
Good Samaritan laws in countries such as the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany and Ireland provide legal protection to people who help those they believe to be in peril, at risk of injury or incapacitated.
Now that the draft law has approved by the Ministry of Health’s Executive Council, it will be forwarded to the Cabinet for further assessment.
“We are working hard to get this law approved this year,” said Dr Fares.
The draft law says that bystanders will be protected if they assisted, with good intentions, someone who is in danger until emergency medical services arrive.
However, providing assistance remains optional, and it will not be a punishable offence to not step in.
“Some countries mandated it but we opted not to in order to allow more freedom in the decision,” said Dr Fares.
In the case of a car accident for example, if the patient is stable and the ambulance is within reach, the only help needed would be to call the ambulance and help them to get to the patient.
“But if the patient is at risk, like if the car is caught in fire or the patient is bleeding, then the help needed here is to take him out of the fire or stopping the bleeding.
“So the judgment will be made on the common sense on most of the cases and a balance between help and the harm.”
Starting CPR, opening an airway to help breathing, and stopping a bleeding could make a huge difference in the survival rates of many patients, Dr Fares said.
Cardiac arrest survival rates in the UAE are quite low, ranging between 4 to 13 per cent outside hospital, said Dr Fares.
“So in a simple language, out of 10 people who suffer cardiac arrest, we only save one, while we can save over six people if we have this law and encourage the community to start the CPR immediately.”
“I understand that this takes time to happen but we need to start somewhere.”
He said the reason such a law has not been introduced yet, is because there have been several incidents in the past where bystander trying to help did not help the situation.
“This led to official announcements to limit such involvement. It took us sometime to convince government entities that the benefit of this law outweighs any risk.
“And with community training in first aid, the outcomes will continue to improve in numerous aspects.”