Last updated: 01.03.23

First Aid in Health and Social Care

It isn’t unheard of for social care workers to find themselves in situations where they are required to use first aid training. For example, you may be working alone and visit an elderly person and discover they have fallen. Or you might work with people with substance abuse problems who may need assistance, or with children that could have injured themselves whilst playing.

Research shows that 1 in 3 people are unsure or don’t have the confidence to administer first aid training. Social care workers may be more likely than most to come across situations where it is needed, so it is important that they have the knowledge and the confidence to administer basic first aid and take the necessary steps to respond to emergency situations.

In this article, we cover some of the key things that social care workers need to know about first aid and the first aid skills that will benefit you in your role.

The Primary Survey

The primary survey is an important starting point for any first aid training and a key aspect of first aid duties. By undertaking this training, the learner will gain essential knowledge in the following areas.

Arriving First at an Accident

If someone is the first on the scene of an accident, the primary survey is the first test that they (the assessor) need to undertake to discover if the casualty has any life-threatening injuries. The steps it follows are significant as they allow them to assess the body in order of priority, focusing first on the injuries that will cause fatality the quickest. It also places the most importance on the assessor keeping themselves safe, avoiding any situations where they also become injured.

Checking for Danger

Before they help the casualty, the person that has arrived on the scene must check their surroundings and assess whether there are any dangers present. In a social care situation, this may include hostile people or animals, traffic, potentially harmful items such as knives or needles, or the injured person’s surroundings. They should attend to the casualty only once they are sure the area is safe. 


The key process for checking for life-threatening injuries and delivering first aid can be remembered by the mnemonic DRS ABC, which lays out the following steps which must be followed in sequence.

D – Danger – Assessing the danger in the environment around the casualty 

R – Response – Checking whether the casualty can respond

S - Send for Help - Getting someone else to come and assist you or to go and get additional medical support

A – Airway – Checking whether the casualty’s airways are blocked, and taking appropriate measures to make sure they are kept open

B – Breathing – Assessing whether the casualty’s breathing is normal and taking appropriate steps if it isn’t

C – Circulation – If necessary, carrying out CPR

Health and social care workers should memorise this mnemonic and the steps it outlines so that they have a clear set of instructions to follow in any first aid situation. 

The Recovery Position

If the primary survey reveals that someone is unconscious but breathing, the most important thing to do is call an ambulance or get someone else to ring 999 and explain the situation. The next step is to put them into the recovery position and monitor them until medical help arrives.

The recovery position is important for numerous reasons:

  • It allows the airway to be kept open
  • If the casualty vomits, then it won’t choke them
  • It keeps the casualty stable and in the same position until help arrives

For more information on this element of first aid, you can read our guide on how to put someone in the recovery position.

Basic First Aid

The primary survey is a very important part of first aid training, but most of the steps won’t be required if the injured person only requires basic first aid. In these cases, the health and social worker will be able to administer treatment themselves and deal with the situation without any additional medical help.

Situations that may require basic first aid in a health and social care scenario include:

  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Burns
  • Splinters
  • Stings
  • Insect bites
  • Nosebleeds
  • Minor bumps and bruises
  • Sprains
  • Fainting

Other situations that are covered in first aid training are more complex and can develop into scenarios where more serious medical help is required. These situations can be approached by using the primary survey, but often require more specific action than following DRS ABC or putting someone in the recovery position.

These include:

Incidents like the above may happen when a social worker is around, which is why they should be covered as part of your first aid training.

First Aid for Mental Health

As someone that works in health and social care, you are likely to interact with people struggling with mental health issues just as much as physical health challenges. There aren’t the same first aid legal requirements around mental health first aid training at the moment, but in this industry it can be incredibly important and will definitely be useful.

Mental health for first aid involves being able to assess when an individual may be suffering from a mental health condition or having an episode that can be linked to one of these conditions. The training provides you with guidance and first aid skills for how to assist someone experiencing distress or maladaptive behaviour linked to their mental health, known as a mental health crisis.

It also helps you to understand what the warning signs and triggers are for conditions like depression, anxiety, OCD, BPD, trauma and psychosis. This allows you to support individuals that may be struggling as a result of their mental health and share advice on how to develop resilience that can lead to recovery.

Some social workers will already have a background in mental health treatment, diagnosis and support, but for those that haven’t been trained in this area, learning mental health first aid can be incredibly useful.

First Aid Training

The best way to learn about the first aid that you might need as a social worker is to take part in first aid training. This will provide you with first aid certification that often lasts several years.

First aid training can be done online or in person, with a variety of different courses available for different people and situations. Even if you’re not required to be a trained first aider in your role, you may still benefit from taking part in a first aid course that covers what to do in the situations we’ve discussed above.

If you want to become a trained first aider, you will need to take part in a certified first aid course. The most common of these are ‘First Aid at Work’ and ‘Emergency First Aid at Work’ which are both offered by a range of different training providers and often carried out in person.

We’ve already talked about mental health first aid training, but you can also do specific courses in paediatric first aid, CPR and defibrillator training, or first aid for sports.

First aid training is important in the health and social care industry because it gives you the skills and experience you need to respond to a range of situations where first aid is required to save someone’s life or prevent their condition from deteriorating. In some roles, these situations are much more likely, so having this training can help you to feel more confident in your role and prepared for dealing with a range of scenarios. 

At Virtual College we want to make sure everyone has the training to ensure they are confident in their workplace. Our ‘First Aid at Work: Primary Survey’ online course is an important step in any first aid training, and our course provides graphics and instructions describing in detail all the steps required.


Why is first aid training important in health and social care?

Health and social care are both industries where you’re likely to come across people that need a range of medical assistance. First aid training gives you the skills to treat or deal with minor injuries and know how to respond in more serious situations, helping to keep casualties stable and prevent deterioration before proper medical help arrives. 

What should you do for yourself when administering first aid?

The most important thing that you need to do for yourself when administering first aid is to keep yourself safe. This might involve wearing PPE and adhering to health and safety guidance, but may also require you to avoid giving first aid if a situation appears unsafe.

Staying safe is more important than administering first aid, so if the injured person is in an unsafe environment then you should always wait until additional help arrives or they can be moved to safety. This might seem like a counterintuitive priority when you’re undertaking first aid training, but it’s in place because it stops first aiders from also becoming injured and requiring medical attention as well. Administering first aid in a dangerous environment potentially increases the number of casualties, so should be avoided.

What is the Health and Safety First Aid Regulations 1981?

The Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 is a piece of government legislation that outlines the legal responsibilities that employers or business owners have when it comes to first aid. This involves ensuring that workplaces have the appropriate equipment and facilities for employees to receive or administer first aid, and also that employees are given relevant first aid training for their roles.


Health and social care workers in certain roles may never have to use their first aid training as part of their job, but knowing first aid is still very important just in case a situation arises. Administering first aid can save lives, and as someone that works with other people in contexts that can have risks present, it’s a good idea to be prepared for accidents or unexpected injuries.

If you work in health and social care and are looking for first aid training or support, we offer an online ‘Basic Life Support and First Aid in Social Care’ course that is ideal for anyone working in a social care setting.