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In casualty and out of harm's way

Hospital visits lack the drama of 'ER' but they may help to reduce childhood accidents. Julie Henry reports

Forget Casualty and ER, RichardGuest was the star of a real hospital soap late last year. The 10-year-old, a pupil of Witney county primary in Oxfordshire, was able to save his younger brother's life thanks to the lessons he had learned on an unusual accident prevention programme.

Pupils in the county have been testing out IMPS, an injury minimisation programme for schools, for the past two years.

The scheme, which is about to go national, takes youngsters on visits to hospital casualty departments. It was on one of these trips that Richard learnt what to do when two-year-old Charles stopped breathing after choking on a piece of soap in the bath.

The Department of Health has been so impressed by IMPS that it is to fund the programme in 12 other regions. Over the next two years 28,000 10 and 11-year-olds will visit hospitals to reinforce lessons on safety and first aid in the classroom.

At first the children - accustomed to lurid scenes in hospital soaps - are disappointed by the reality. DIY injuries are much more common than gunshot wounds. However, the safety message seems to be getting across.

Last week, during their two-and-a-half hour visit to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, children from Rush Common primary, Abingon, were given a tour of the accident and emergency unit, operating theatre and X-ray department.

Initial giggles subsided as pupils got to grips with the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation dummies and attempted life-saving techniques.

Julia Grinstead, IMPSdevelopment co-ordinator, said: "We show a video of young people in situations where they receive the most common injuries, like burns, cuts, falls and choking. We use a bit of ketchup but it's not the kind of thing that gives them nightmares."

Evaluation of the programme has shown hospital visits help children to retain first-aid skills and safety knowledge. Mrs Grinstead said: "Feedback from both teachers and pupils has been universally positive.

"Children are really excited by the hospital environment which brings home to them the value of what they have learned in school."

Accidental injury is the single greatest cause of death and disability to children in the UK. According to the Child Accident Prevention Trust, 2.25 million children aged 14 and under end up in casualty departments every year.

The Government aims to cut the number of serious injuries as a result of accidents by a tenth by 2010.

Accident prevention schemes have become firmly established in schools, mostly through personal, health and social education.

For more information www.impsweb.co.uk

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