A Matter of Life or Death: that’s what first aid is to this Borders doctor

More than 100,000 copies of the booklet have sold since 1975 and it is hoped even more people will now purchase the pocket-sized version.
More than 100,000 copies of the booklet have sold since 1975 and it is hoped even more people will now purchase the pocket-sized version.

A doctor is surely best placed to know that first aid is a matter of life or death.

Dr Peter Paterson-Brown passionately believes we should all know the basics.

Emergency first aid...has been made easy thanks to Dr Peter Paterson-Brown's step-by-step booklet. Peter lives in Hawick with his border terrier Pippa.

Emergency first aid...has been made easy thanks to Dr Peter Paterson-Brown's step-by-step booklet. Peter lives in Hawick with his border terrier Pippa.

To enable just that, back in 1975 he published a booklet to ensure everyone had it in them to save a life.

Revised and reprinted on a number of occasions, A Matter of Life or Death has now sold more than 100,000 copies since 1975.

But rather than rest on his laurels, the retired GP has again updated the booklet – transforming it into a pocket-sized guide.

And the 87-year-old hopes that even more people will now purchase a copy of the booklet, priced at just £1.

Peter said: “Each year, people die unnecessarily because somebody somewhere does not know how to carry out simple, life-saving first aid.

“Everyone has a responsibility to know how to save a life. No-one has the right to opt out of this responsibility.

“There is sufficient in this booklet to enable almost anyone of any age to deal with the common first aid emergencies.

“One day you may be given the opportunity of saving a life. How tragic it would be if your lack of knowledge prevented you from accepting such a challenge.”

Peter moved to Hawick in 1957 and a year later became partner at the medical practice in O’Connell Street where he worked until he retired in 1991.

He then became a director at Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) for ten years, while also serving as a locum at three practices in the Highlands.

Now fully retired and living in Hawick, Peter decided earlier this year to revise A Matter of Life or Death, this time enlisting the help of senior ambulance paramedic Alan McGee to update the work.

While most of the advice remains unchanged, there are some new additions.

Peter explained: “We’ve included small sections on acid attacks and EpiPens.

“Unfortunately, acid attacks have been making the headlines recently and we felt it was important to include a small paragraph on what to do in such a situation.

“There’s really not much you can do, apart from pouring water over the affected area immediately.

“Food allergies are also becoming more prevalent so we felt it important to include a section on that and the use of EpiPens.

“Guidelines on CPR are always changing too so Alan was able to make sure the booklet was up-to-date with the latest techniques.

“His advice was invaluable and I’m very grateful to him for his help.”

Every pupil at Hawick High School has been given a copy of A Matter of Life or Death, which Peter hopes they will take to heart.

He said: “You are never too young to save a life and I truly hope the pupils keep the booklet handy and read it every now and again.

“It’s up to the school to decide but I think it’s important that youngsters know the basics too.”

Peter first hit on the idea of creating a concise first aid guide when helping the Red Cross deliver classes in the Borders.

He recalled: “For about five weeks every winter, we held a first aid class.

“I was encouraged that people seemed to enjoy it and came back, year after year, to refresh their training.

“Someone at the classes asked if we could put the techniques down on paper so they could remember them.

“And that’s how A Matter of Life or Death was created.

“Initially, it was a rather large booklet but in its latest incarnation we’ve made it pocket-sized, so peolpe can keep it in their back pocket or handbag and refer to it should they need to.

“While people learn first aid, they do forget it over time. Remembering all the steps in CPR, for example, is almost impossible.

“But if someone has the booklet, they can refresh their memory.”

Copies of the booklet are available in Campbell’s Newsagents in Hawick, priced £1 or can be bought directly from Peter by sending £1 and a second class stamp to Upper Scawmill, Whitehaugh Road, Hawick, TD9 7LQ.

Peter, a dad of four who has eight grandchildren, lost his wife June eight years ago. They had been happily married for 50 years.

But he is kept on his toes by his border terrier Pippa.

And he has also penned another book, Memoirs of a Scottish Doctor.

Containing 15 short stories of his time in general practice, it is at the printers now and will be on book shelves before Christmas.

Praise for life-saving booklet

With more than 100,000 books sold since it was first printed in 1975, A Matter of Life or Death has won praise from a number of noted medical journals. Here are just a few reviews for the original edition.

RG Orr, in the Journal of Public Occupational Medicine, stated: “Basic life-saving techniques can be taught rapidly to anyone of average intelligence. In his booklet, Dr Paterson-Brown offers an easy way of doing this with his clear and simple presentation. Dr Paterson-Brown has fulfilled a long-standing need in first aid training and every factory in the country would do well to bring this booklet to the attention of its staff. Many accidental fatalities could be prevented if they did.”

The Journal of Public Health, London, said: “It is designed to enable anyone of any age to deal competently with common first aid emergencies. Unlike almost all other books on first aid, it does not attempt to be comprehensive. It deals simply and adequately with those vital points which save lives in an emergency. No school, factory or office should be without a copy. It is the best available on the market as regards conciseness, ease of reference, accuracy and value for money.”

And Alan Maryon-Davies, in the Health Education Journal, said: “The handbook goes straight to the point – those techniques of first aid that are literally a matter of life or death. All you need to know about airway obstruction, cardio-respiratory arrest and haemorrhage, with straight-forward, step-by-step instructions on the first few vital moves to save a life. Easy to read by children as well as adults, with simple line drawings. As the author points out in his foreword: If this prevents one death, then it’s worth reading – isn’t it?”