The ambitious plan to save lives with the CPR 4 Schools programme

Ireland’s 365,000-plus secondary school students are the target of a ground-breaking training programme from the Irish Heart Foundation

Irish Heart Foundation

This year’s Bank of Ireland Sponsor for a Day campaign is shining a light on the Irish Heart Foundation’s lifesaving CPR programme. Photograph: iStock


Around 5,000 cardiac arrests take place in Ireland every year.  In each case, having someone nearby who can perform CPR immediately is crucial to their survival. International research shows that a person is 10 times more likely to do CPR if they are trained. 

CPR stands for cardio pulmonary resuscitation and last year, thanks to Bank of Ireland’s support, the Irish Heart Foundation launched its innovative CPR 4 Schools programme for secondary students. This has provided them with training in what to do in the event that someone near them suffers cardiac arrest.

With around 365,000 second-level students in school each year, CPR 4 Schools means 365,000 CPR lifesavers in every community in the country. It takes just one class period to teach this lifelong (and life-saving) skill.

[The 2018 Bank of Ireland Sponsor for a Day programme will see the Bank of Ireland name being removed from the Leinster and Munster Rugby team shirts for a day and replaced with the Irish Heart Foundation’s logo.]

To date, thanks to the CPR 4 Schools programme, the Irish Heart Foundation has trained over 700 teachers through the initiative, and these have gone back to 289 schools – in every county - to train both students and other teachers.

One teacher who is already a huge advocate for the programme is Michelle Herbert, a chemistry teacher at Hazel Wood College in Limerick. On October 9th, 2016, aged just 32, she suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while playing a camogie match.

“Seven minutes into the second half I got dizzy. I put my hurley out in front of me to break my fall forwards but fell backwards. I didn’t get any pain down my arm or in my chest or any of the things you see on TV. There was nothing. I just felt dizzy. Then it felt like curtains closing on a stage. My son, partner and mother were in the stands and I picked them out as the curtains closed,” says Michelle.

There was no prior indication of any problem with her heart. “If I had been in hospital the day before for tests they wouldn’t have found anything. It just happened. There was no specific reason.”

That she woke up 26 minutes later and was later airlifted to hospital where she made a full recovery is down to one thing - the woman marking her for the opposition happened to be a nurse who set to work doing CPR immediately.

“By the time I had come to I had had 12 rounds of compressions and eight shocks with the defibrillator that was in the club house. My marker Sarah Jane is a nurse and she just wasn’t going to stop. In my case it took 40 minutes for the ambulance to arrive and the helicopter came at the same time. In the meantime six or seven people jumped in to take turns with the CPR, because it can be exhausting.”

Now back to work on a job-sharing basis and with her energy levels much recovered, Michelle plans to teach her entire school CPR on her cardiac anniversary next October 9th, which is national Restart a Heart Week. She is also working with the Irish Heart Foundation to bring CPR training to all schools in her region.

“Training matters because confidence is so important when it comes to CPR,” she says. “Defibrillators are great but if there is none around people need to know that they can keep someone going with compressions, as long as they are good compressions.”


 “We do cluster training, in education centres around the country, and provide the teachers with a kit which includes a set of manikins and access to an online training system. It allows them run training sessions that take just 40 minutes, which fits nicely into the school timetable,” says Laura Hickey, who runs the CPR 4 Schools programme.

If a student does one class a year, by sixth year they will have refreshed their skills six times. This is important because research indicates that the more confident a person is about CPR, the more likely they are to do it, and to do it well.

We have some fantastic students participating, we have seen them go out and teach other students

The manikin, for example, is fitted with a clicker that makes a noise only when the student has compressed its “chest” to the required depth of two inches, for example.

Laura’s work with the schools includes heart-health topics such as healthy eating and physical activity, as well as CPR training.

“We know that if you get into good health habits as a young person, you are much more likely to have them lifelong,” she says.

“In relation to CPR it’s about taking the fear out of life-saving and luckily young people don’t have that fear of getting involved that we as adults can sometimes have. They are much more likely to get right in there if help is needed.”


Push hard in the centre of chest 100 to 120 times per minute. Photograph: iStock
Push hard in the centre of chest 100 to 120 times per minute. Photograph: iStock

Training while young pays lifelong dividends. “We have some fantastic students participating, we have seen them go out and teach other students, which is great because you are much more likely to learn from a peer. We also have schools who have gone on to bring their skills out into the community, running training sessions for local GAA clubs and elder care and other community groups, showing them how to do CPR too.”

Training matters because confidence is so important when it comes to CPR

Thanks to the Bank of Ireland sponsorship, the Irish Heart Foundation has the potential to train all 365,000 secondary level students in the country.

“We have done 289 schools so far, with two more training sessions to go this year. And next year hope to do another 200 schools. The result is that, all across the country, secondary-level students will know how to do CPR, and how to keep doing it until the ambulance arrives. Any teacher that wants to participate can log on to our website and apply – it’s free.”

To find out more about CPR 4 Schools see irishheart.ie/your-health/cpr/cpr-4-schools/