Essential facts about performing hands-only CPR

Vinnie Jones in British Heart Foundation CPR advert.
Vinnie Jones in British Heart Foundation CPR advert. Photo: British Heart Foundation

Read our guide to performing hands-only CPR on someone who is in cardiac arrest. It means they have collapsed, are not breathing normally and are unresponsive.

First call 999 and push hard and fast in the centre of their chest to the beat of Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees until an ambulance arrives.

Watch the Vinnie Jones advert below for tips on how to do this:

Here's some more advice on performing CPR:

  • It's been shown that chest compressions are often carried out at the wrong depth and speed so ‘hard and fast’ is a very simple message that lots of people will hopefully remember. ‘Hard’ means pushing on the chest to a depth of 5cm to 6cm, and ‘fast’ means 100-120 compressions a minute, roughly the same speed as Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees.
  • If someone has collapsed, is not breathing normally and is not responsive to shaking and shouting then Hands-only CPR can increase their chances of survival prior to a defibrillator and professional help arriving.In the first few minutes after cardiac arrest, the casualty may be barely breathing, or taking infrequent noisy gasps. This is called agonal breathing and must not be confused with normal breathing. If someone is unresponsive and their breathing is noisy, infrequent or doesn’t seem normal, start hands-only CPR.
  • If someone carries out early CPR, it may double a casualty’s chances of survival. Hands-only CPR should increase the number of bystander interventions and save lives.
  • Children's ribs are flexible so you’re very unlikely to cause damage through hands-only CPR. Use two fingers for an infant under a year and one or two hands for a child over a year to make sure you compress the chest by about one third of its depth. If you’ve been taught how to give rescue breaths then these should be used to help children; give five rescue breaths before you start chest compressions, then give two rescue breaths after every 30 chest compressions.
  • Rescuers should continue to deliver hands-only CPR until professional help arrives and takes over, or they become exhausted. You can also stop chest compressions if the casualty shows signs of regaining consciousness, such as coughing, opening their eyes, speaking, moving purposefully, as well as breathing normally. Ideally, if there is more than one rescuer they should swap over every two minutes until a defibrillator arrives to prevent tiredness.
  • Cardiac arrest takes priority over anything else, so yes. If you don’t give hands-only CPR then you are reducing the chance of the casualty surviving. It may seem a difficult decision but saving someone’s life takes priority over other injuries.
  • Rescuers should always listen to the ambulance operator as they will be best placed to tell you how to help properly. If you’re trained, the operator will probably talk you through CPR with rescue breaths but if not, they’ll probably guide you through hands-only CPR.
  • Chest compressions alone will only very rarely be able bring someone out of a cardiac arrest. Most of the time a defibrillator is needed to ‘shock’ the heart to allow a normal heart rhythm to return. Hands-only CPR will help keep some oxygenated blood going to the brain before a defibrillator arrives and is an important link in the chain of survival.
  • Hands-only CPR works best when an ambulance arrives within a few minutes. But even when help takes longer to arrive, hands-only CPR is better than no CPR, so carry on until an ambulance arrives.
  • Removing someone’s clothing on the upper chest will help make hands-only CPR even more effective, so it’s preferable. But rescuers can still carry out chest compressions through thin clothing, like a woman’s blouse.

Sharon Shankster, Lettings Manager at Northfields estate agent, talks about performing CPR on someone who collapsed in front of her:

For more information visit the British Heart Foundation website.