Tourniquets: Debunking the Myth

Improvised Tourniquet

On a recent course we received criticism for teaching tourniquets in First Aid at Work. It seems that many organisations, including some of the Voluntary Aid Societies, still won’t teach them. This post will look at the reasons we do teach tourniquets and hopefully debunk a few myths along the way.

In the 2015 European Resuscitation Council (ERC) Guidelines (Section 9 First Aid for Trauma Injuries) it states:

Use a tourniquet when direct wound pressure cannot control severe external bleeding in a limb. Training is required to ensure the safe and effective application of a tourniquet.

After these guidelines were released  I attended a meeting of the HSE First Aid at Work Quality Partnership that looked at how this statement from the ERC could be implemented. Following pressure from some of the members of the group it was decided that tourniquets should be taught “where risk dictated their use”, for example chainsaws, moving machinery, etc, not to every first aider. Not everyone was happy with this compromise so we were left with the situation where some organisations teach tourniquets routinely and some don’t.

In 2017, the Royal College of Surgeons Faculty of Pre-Hospital Care released a Position statement on the application of Tourniquets. This brought civilian protocols in line with established and proven military protocol and gave a definitive protocol for their use.

Unfortunately there is still considerable confusion about the use of tourniquets. We have heard all of these comments on courses, and they are all myths, not backed up by research and medical evidence.

They will lose the limb if you apply a tourniquet.

I wasn’t taught tourniquets on my last course and was told they are dangerous.

You are being irresponsible teaching them.

Following extensive use in military situations, and a wealth of good research, there is now considerable evidence that tourniquets are effective, save lives and have a relatively low rate of complications following application. In a 2018 research study, Teixeira & Brown examined the use of tourniquets in a Civilian Prehospital environment. They found an increased survival rate compared to those without a tourniquet applied. However, perhaps more importantly there was no increased likelihood of amputation as a result of tourniquet application.

In 2017 Citizen Aid was launched. This award-winning initiative was designed to teach the public what to do in case of a terror attack. The founders are legends in UK medicine and include Brigadier Professor Tim Hoggetts (Senior Health Advisor to the British Army and Honorary Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Birmingham) and Professor Sir Keith Porter (Clinical Professor of Traumatology at the University of Birmingham and Head of Trauma Care).  Trauma Care is an organisation set up to “Increase Survival from Roadside to Recovery”.

Citizen Aid tackle the problem of not teaching tourniquets in an article on their website:  CitizenAid: Debunking the tourniquet myth

This article is well worth a read as it shows the clear frustrations of the UK’s top trauma surgeons and founders of Citizen Aid over tourniquets in First Aid.

The dogma that tourniquets can never be used is one that is still deep-rooted in the first aid community, despite the work of the informed to dig this out ... So why does this mythology persist?

The rationale for a tourniquet is life-threatening limb bleeding that cannot be controlled by other means. If this rationale is followed, a tourniquet can only ever do good. The alternative is that the patient will die.

The argument of harm assumes that tourniquets will be applied inappropriately, for injuries that are not life-threatening ... Unfortunately, the inverted logic of preventing the use of life-saving equipment disenfranchises the very patients that can be saved by the public in the early minutes following severe injury.

Where an active decision has been taken to dissuade the use of a tourniquet in these circumstances, how will that decision be justified morally and legally?

We stand wholeheartedly by this statement from CitizenAid.

CitizenAid was designed to help the public perform lifesaving first aid in terror incidents and there is evidence that it has worked. We are proud to support the principles of CitizenAid in our training. Download the App and tell your friends/colleagues too!

In both cases lives were saved due to the quick thinking of bystanders, who didn’t listen to the myths about tourniquets.

Let’s be frank, if they had not applied improvised tourniquets quickly, then the casualties would most likely have died before medical assistance arrived. Major bleeding can result in death in a matter of minutes and certainly before an ambulance arrives!

At iLearnFirstAid we constantly look at what we teach and why we teach it. So, we are proud to be an organisation that teaches tourniquets routinely to our students. They are easy to apply and first aiders shouldn’t be frightened of them.

In the last few years we have changed our protocols in many areas to offer our customers, and their staff, the most up to date and evidence based training possible. This means that at times what we teach will ‘fly in the face’ of what some other organisations are teaching. However, we would rather lead the way with effective, evidence based training than follow like sheep.

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