Government study researches civilian help for first aid in Belgium

1 July 2021
Civilian help for first aid in case of heart attacks or stroke in neighbouring countries as the Netherlands & Germany for much higher survival rates dan in ons land. Commissioned by the government, emergency doctors at UZ Leuven are now researching how the system of medical first responders can be applied in Belgium.

The survival rates after a cardiac arrest in Belgium is currently lower than 10%. In other European countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and the UK, the survival rate after a cardiac arrest are much higher, up to 40%. Scientific literature shows that 2 things prove important to make the survival figures go up. Recognising a heart attack and rapid response to ensure survival are crucial. In addition, it is essential to get trained people to the victim as soon as possible and to be able to send professional emergency services.

To provide first aid on the spot, you can work with civilian first-aid helpers, also called medical first responders. It is often physicians or healthcare workers that volunteer to be available outside office hours, but also people with a special training can be part of the medical first responders. A notification system will check who is available near the victim to provide vital emergency care.

Objective: 15 minutes

In 2020, the federal public service for health gave UZ Leuven emergency medicine department the assigment to examine a system of medical first responders in Belgium. This not only includes cardiac arrests, but also e.g. strokes, heart attacks, severe respiratory problems and accidents. In Belgium the government aims to complete 90% of all interventions within 15 minutes. A system of medical first responders could help achieve that goal. Prof. dr. Marc Sabbe, emergency physician at UZ Leuven: “Engaging specially trained civilians for life-threatening situations is internationally seen as an important factor for decreasing mortality. We are now going to assess whether Belgium is ready to work with such a notification system of volunteers.”


When football player Christian Eriksen suddenly collapsed during the European championship on 11 June 2021, there were a lot of expert opinions and proposals to be able to also handle such incidents in Belgium in a quick and safe manner. In addition, there already are existing initiatives or pilot projects in our country. For this trial, the emergency medicine department at UZ Leuven wishes to look at the complete system and formulate realistic recommendations for improvement. The physicians would therefore like to put out a call for suggestions or remarks about existing initiatives with medical first responders to be send to

"We're assessing whether Belgium is also ready to work with a notification system of volunteers.”
Last edit: 2 July 2021