Category: UK

Post relating to the British Red Cross in the United Kingdom

Unwanted Xmas gifts: what to say


It’s Christmas: season of socks and gift sets and those ceramic bowls with a candle underneath for melting chocolate that no-one has ever taken out the box. Ever.

Everyone has a present horror story: the excruciating framed picture that someone will expect to see on your living room wall when they next visit; the ‘scented’ bubble bath that would stun a cow at ten paces; the brooch that looks like a baby’s just vomited on your top.

Still, there’s no accounting for taste, and rest assured someone out there would be delighted – nay, even emotional – to find the dolphin figurine that Aunt Agnes bought for you on sale at a bargain price. So please do drop off your unwanted stuff at a local Red Cross shop, then pat yourself on the back for achieving the rare double feat of doing something honourable while getting rid of unwanted tat.

In return, I’ll give you a quick tutorial in understanding the nuances of gift etiquette – the difference between what people say about your presents and what they mean – which should help you avoid future Xmas clangers. Here’s five classic examples to bear in mind:

1. Ah, you can never have too many of these…
I have too many of these.

2. Lovely. These will come in…
I have absolutely no use for these items.

3. Ah, just what I wanted…
What is this, exactly?

4. Aw. Look at this, Trevor…
Trevor. Please. Trevor. You say something about this tat. I’m literally lost for words here.

5. That’s great! Honestly, I really do like that…
I hated everything else that you bought me.

So remember: leave the reindeer slippers and Old Spice aftershave on the shelf and, if in doubt, just buy them a gift voucher. Merry Christmas!

Defibrillators: a shockingly good idea


If you were a fan of the American hospital-based drama ER, you’re possibly labouring under the misapprehension that defibrillator-use is very common. Broadly every five minutes or so during the series, someone would shout ‘Defibs! Now!’ then blast a few hundred volts into an ailing casualty.

But remember, this was also a world in which doctors routinely looked like George Clooney and not the gangly, not-enough-sunlight-looking specimen who always seems to be on duty when you visit the wards.

Still, it certainly is true that defibrillators can play an absolutely critical role in saving lives when people suffer a cardiac arrest. In fact, if used within two to three minutes, they can increase the chances of survival by 70 per cent. I’ve been fortunate enough to cover quite a few stories where they have literally made a life-saving difference – just check out these nuggets featuring our volunteers Jim and Pete, and Alan and Mariusz.

And that’s why we’re so chuffed that Land Rover, who very generously donated 30 emergency response vehicles to the Red Cross two years ago, has just given us 30 defibrillators to go with them.

The fab, all-terrain Land Rovers are invaluable in helping our volunteers reach casualties in hard-to-reach areas and during bad weather. (For example, they were helping out, non-stop, all over the place during the recent snowstorms.) Adding defibrillators to the package is the perfect icing on the emergency response cake.

I have no doubt that, before too long, one of these gizmos will be used by our trained volunteers during a real emergency to actually save somebody’s life. And no matter how you view it, that’s shockingly impressive.

Why we support the emergency services


If you’ve been reading my snowy news stories on the main Red Cross website in the past week (and if you haven’t, what a rare treat you’ve been missing) you’ll notice we’ve been helping the emergency services right up and down the country.

And yesterday someone asked me a very simple question: why are you lot helping them, and how does all that work? It’s a fair question, so I’ll do my best to answer.

Being a savvy organisation, the Red Cross has pre-existing arrangements in place with the emergency services all over the UK. This means that, when something goes wrong, they can call us and be sure we’ll launch an immediate response.

The Red Cross helps out in all kinds of ways. If there’s a big accident, say, our ambulance crews can take on routine calls to free up paramedics for the serious stuff. When there’s a domestic blaze, our fire and emergency support service turns out to look after those who have lost their homes so the fire-fighters can get on with their heroic business.

And when there’s a huge blanket of deep snow covering the country…well, that’s when we come in especially useful.

The organisation’s fleet of specially-equipped Land Rover 4×4 vehicles can access areas that standard ambulances couldn’t hope to reach. When the snow’s a foot deep, the roads are like skating rinks and fierce blizzards have reduced visibility to the end of your nose (I may exaggerate slightly), you need the right vehicles. And trained drivers who can manage them. The Red Cross delivers on both fronts.

So when major snowstorms happen and the emergency services find themselves uber-busy on all fronts, many essential tasks – such as transporting patients, emergency call-outs, even ferrying doctors and nurses to hospital – fall to the Red Cross. It’s not for nothing an ambulance spokesman last week called our support a ‘godsend’.

And at times like these, the accidents just keep piling up. Yesterday our emergency response volunteers came across a family of four in the Highlands whose car had veered off a remote road. They rescued the grateful brood and towed their car back home. Who knows how long they would have been there otherwise?

So if you peek out your frosted window in the next few days and see Red Cross volunteers trundling past in a 4×4 vehicle, raise your hot cup of tea in tribute. They’re doing a grand job.

Snow support for terminally ill man


I heard a heart-breaking story today. A woman called Sue, who lives in a Cornish village, has been caring for her elderly husband Pete who is in the final stages of terminal cancer. As if life wasn’t stressful enough, this week she found herself completely cut off by the treacherous conditions and unable to get out for food and vital medical supplies.

Sue, who has been with Pete for 35 years, said: “Pete is very, very ill and being nursed at home by me. This snowfall caught everyone by surprise and I can’t leave my husband so there’s nothing I can do, which is the most awful feeling. You feel so helpless.”

But hang on; it’s not all bad. Sue phoned her local council, who contacted the Red Cross. Volunteers Mike Myers and Paul Jones were soon on their way, and their specialist driver training – coupled with a Land Rover 4×4 vehicle – enabled them to negotiate the nigh-impassable roads.

A grateful Sue said: “They’ve been absolute life-savers. They came down a very dodgy hill to get the supplies to us and it was such a relief. They even came back to deliver Pete’s medication. I’m so grateful.”

All across the country, our volunteers have spent the past week out in all weathers dealing with absolute medical necessities that simply cannot wait: ferrying patients back and forth for dialysis and chemotherapy; taking terminally ill patients home to die in peace; even helping out at a home birth.

In these freezing temperatures, you have to take your woolly hat off to that kind of dedication. And dear reader: I don’t normally do this, but today I’m holding out my woolly hat and just saying, you know, if you maybe happen to have a spare few quid, you could do far worse than make a wee donation to help support all this inspiring work.

Our volunteers have been superb this week. Just ask Sue and Pete.

Follow the Red Cross response to severe weather throughout the UK on Twitter.

World AIDS Day quiz: how much do you really know about HIV?

People with red balloons standing as an HIV-ribbon

Okay I lured you in with the promise of a quiz (it’s at the bottom of the page, I promise!) but please just take a few minutes out of your day to read my blog first.

No matter where you live in the world, no one these days can afford to be ignorant about HIV.

Last week, the Guardian reported that an estimated 86,500 people are living with HIV in the UK, but a quarter of them do not know they are infected.

Earlier this year I travelled to South Africa, the country with the world’s largest number of people living with HIV. In this video, narrated by Annie Lennox, you can hear stories from some of the people I met.

One of the biggest things that really struck me during my visit was that it’s not only the person living with HIV who is affected, but also their families and communities. I met many orphans that the Red Cross is supporting and hearing their stories was truly heartbreaking.

But the good news is that the tide is turning with the global AIDS epidemic, the UN has reported that fewer people are becoming HIV infected and fewer people are dying. This news reflects the success of a massive international effort from governments and organisations to educate communities on the prevention of HIV, particularly around adopting safer sexual practices.

However, with 33.4 million people worldwide still living with the virus the challenge of combating HIV is far from over.

HIV is an emotive subject and many people are frightened to talk about it, let alone think about getting themselves tested.

The fact that there is roughly more than 21,600 people in the UK who do not even know they are infected with HIV worries me. Not only does this mean they are not getting the treatment they need but it also means they continue to put others at risk. It’s time we started talking more openly about this disease and by doing so tackling the fear.

Many young Red Cross volunteers in the UK are well aware that HIV is not just a problem for countries overseas. You can read their stories and find out how they are using creative ideas to raise awareness about the disease, and fight discrimination and stigma.

I’m sure there’s more we can all do to raise awareness about HIV but for starters how about taking the quiz below? Share it with your mates, put it on Facebook and be honest about how many answers you got correct!


1.    Where was the world’s first case of AIDS identified and in what year?
2.    What age group is most affected by HIV?
3.    What are the three ways HIV can be transmitted?
4.    What is the ABC approach to preventing the spread of AIDS?
5.    Is there a cure for HIV?


1.    The world’s first cases of AIDS were reported in the USA in 1981.*
2.    15-49 is the age group most affected by HIV.
3.    HIV can be transmitted through: unprotected sex, blood (particularly through transfusions or intravenous drug use) and from mother to baby (via pregnancy, labour or breast milk).
4.    The ABC approach to preventing the spread of AIDS stand for: Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom. However it’s a controversial approach – read more on AlertNet.
5.    There is no cure yet for HIV, but there are drug treatments (antiretroviral therapy) that have transformed the prognosis of people living with HIV, turning it into a chronic condition that can be managed. However, this of course is dependent on the person living with HIV being able to afford/access the treatment and maintain a healthy lifestyle with good nutrition.

Londaka is one of the 1.4 million children who have been orphaned by AIDS in South Africa. Read her story about keeping her memory of her mother alive.

*This previously stated the answer as being Uganda, which was incorrect.

Photo © Callum Bennetts – Maverick photo agency/BRC

Golf buggy for first aid team


First aiders in golf buggyWe’ve got some brand new wheels. Ok, so it’s not exactly a Ferrari, and is a trifle slower, but oh so cute. Yes, Red Cross event first aid staff and volunteers are now zipping about in a customised golf buggy.

The new wheels suit us to a tee (sorry, couldn’t resist), and were funded by a £6,000 donation from the Dr Scholl Foundation. The buggy has been modified with the charity’s emblem, fluorescent hatching and a yellow warning light. If you’re wondering as to why we need this dinky vehicle – fear not there hasn’t been a surge in golf-related injuries – allow me to explain.

The golf buggy, which is being used by our Hampshire, Isle of Wight and Surrey branch, enables first aiders to easily navigate crowds at large events, getting to casualties faster. It also means we can transport them back to our first aid post or onto one of our ambulances, in comfort.

We’ve already got enough vehicles in our fleet to fill an entire episode of Top Gear. The fleet includes road ambulances, 4×4 ambulances, Land Rovers and fire and emergency support units.

In the event of an emergency, you can at least be sure of a smooth ride with the Red Cross.

Sign up for the Make a Difference Day challenge


man in a mohican wigTo celebrate Make a Difference Day today –  a big day for volunteering – I’m setting you a challenge, dear reader, to demonstrate how easy it is to make a difference by doing relatively little.

The challenge is to perform an act of kindness above and beyond what you would normally do, between now and Friday. Email me ( about what you’ve done and why. The most interesting acts will star on my blog next week, and be shared with our entire online community.

It can be absolutely anything. Here are a few ideas:

– wear a silly wig for the day to fundraise

– hold some sponsored sumo wrestling

– volunteer to do an elderly neighbour’s shopping

–  offer to walk someone’s dog

– make a cake for your colleagues

– help a stranger

man in a sumo suitWhat will you get out of it? Well, a warm do-gooder glow for starters, plus the chance to get your name and act(s) of kindness in lights on our blog site. Hopefully the challenge will also tickle your feelgood fancy enough for you to sign up as a volunteer with us; our opportunities are many, varied and super-flexible – perfect for busy lives.

Of course, I couldn’t set the challenge without completing it myself. So, on your marks, get set…do good!

This week's headlines


Some of the headlines that have caught our attention this week.

As usual, these links may contain views and opinions with which the British Red Cross might not necessarily agree with nor endorse.

138 dead after cholera outbreak in Haiti – CNN

Haitian Health Ministry officials have informed the World Health Organization that 138 deaths are a part of a fast-moving cholera outbreak north of Port-au-Prince, a U.N. official said.

Asylum seekers may have to pay towards cost of appeals – The Scotsman

Asylum seekers and migrants who want to appeal against decisions made against them will be charged under new plans.


David Cameron was last night forced to defend the Government’s massive hike in overseas aid while slashing public spending in Britain.

Typhoon Megi heads for China after striking Philippines – BBC

Typhoon Megi was the strongest to hit the Philippines for several years and caused significant damage, tearing the roofs off houses and cutting power. It has now passed over the main island, Luzon, and is heading towards the southern coast of China.

Big increase in drunken 10-year-olds who need an ambulance – Evening Standard

London Ambulance Service figures today reveal that the number of 10- and 11-year-olds requiring medical treatment for alcohol abuse has more than doubled in the past two years.