CPR at 38,000ft: the nursing student who took control of an in-flight emergency

Isobel Corrie named RCNi Nurse Awards Patient’s Choice winner after saving fellow passenger’s life

  • ‘Good Samaritan’ nurse had not yet graduated when she stepped up to lead a medical emergency response in a cramped aircraft cabin
  • She won the public vote for the Patient’s Choice category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2020
  • The man who nominated Ms Corrie and her employer commend her courage and professionalism
Isobel Corrie, newly qualified nurse and winner of the RCNi Patient’s Choice Award 2020
Isobel Corrie, newly qualified nurse and winner of the RCNi Patient’s Choice Award 2020

A nurse who saved a fellow plane passenger’s life at 38,000ft while still a student has won the prestigious Patient’s Choice category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2020.

Isobel Corrie, who now works for South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust, won the public vote for the award, which attracted more than 10,000 votes overall.

The appeal went out for medical experience – and Isobel Corrie answered the call

Ms Corrie was one of six finalists chosen from scores of nurses nominated by members of the public for making an enormous difference to their lives.

She was nominated by James Birch, who went into cardiac arrest while travelling back to the UK from a holiday in Thailand with his partner in 2019.

Ms Corrie, who was on the same flight, was looking forward to her graduation from Oxford Brookes University the following week and then starting her first job as a qualified nurse at Warwick Hospital.

She was fast asleep but woken by the person sitting next her, who told her there was an emergency on board and there had been a call over the tannoy asking for anyone with medical experience.

‘I am in no doubt whatsoever that had Isobel not stepped forward, I would not be here today’

James Birch, nominator

Ms Corrie put herself forward, carried out CPR and ran the emergency response in cramped conditions for 45 minutes until the diverted aircraft could land.

James Birch and his partner Julie. Mr Birch nominated Isobel Corrie for the RCNi Patient's Choice award
‘Eternally grateful’ James Birch and
his partner Julie

Now, Mr Birch is delighted Ms Corrie’s courage and professionalism has been recognised.

He says: ‘This brave young lady saved my life when it would have been easier to sit quietly and do nothing. Despite being on a plane, she did such a good job that I have very few consequences as a result.

‘I am in no doubt whatsoever that had she not stepped forward I would not be here today. She deserves this award but it is nowhere near enough to express our eternal gratitude for what she did.’

A dedicated nurse and an asset to our trust

South Warwickshire trust’s director of nursing Fiona Burton says she is ‘unbelievably proud’ of Ms Corrie.

‘Her bravery and compassion is exactly what the nursing profession is all about,’ she says.

‘Even at the start of her career she has demonstrated what a dedicated nurse she is. Isobel is an asset to our trust so I am delighted she has been recognised for her courageous actions.’

Find out about our other RCNi Nurse Awards 2020 winners

When nurses assist in an emergency: rights and expectations

Unlike some countries, the UK does not have a Good Samaritan law that requires someone to come to the aid of another, unless there is a pre-existing duty or they created the situation.

As a nurse, you have no legal duty to provide first aid to a member of the public outside of work.

However, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) code states that registrants have a professional and ethical duty to assist.

The Code states nurses should always offer help if an emergency arises in their practice setting or anywhere else. However, nurses must:

  • Only act in an emergency within the limits of their knowledge and competence
  • Arrange, wherever possible, for emergency care to be accessed and provided promptly
  • Take account of their own safety, the safety of others and the availability of other options for providing care.

Adapted from the NMC code

‘I’m pleased to shine a light on newly qualified nurses’

Ms Corrie’s actions attracted considerable media attention when the Patient’s Choice shortlist was announced, and she was interviewed on BBC Breakfast and local radio.

She says: ‘I’ve been really pleased to shine a light on newly qualified nurses in the media to say “we are here and we are doing our best”. We can feel a bit in the background.

‘James and I have been checking in throughout this time to make sure we are okay and we have been really happy and excited for each other.’

Mr Birch and Ms Corrie marked significant milestones during the period of the public vote – the first anniversary of Mr Birch’s cardiac arrest and Ms Corrie’s the completion of her first year as a registered nurse.

She celebrated her anniversary at work, in the gastrointestinal surgery department at Warwick Hospital. ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way. It felt like a milestone. You never know what might happen – what might come through your door.

‘There have been lots of ward situations and amazing people but I feel so satisfied and proud about what I do. I use all my skills. Nursing is such a fantastic job.’

And another award… this time for showing compassion in comforting a distressed patient

The award is Ms Corrie’s second this year – she has already won a trust award for going the extra mile with a hospital patient, having been nominated by the mother of a patient with autism.

‘He had been admitted to the ward I work on, which was very traumatic for him,’ says Ms Corrie. ‘He was non-verbal and his mum was not allowed on to the ward – because of COVID-19, visitors were only allowed at end of life.

‘I remember that shift so clearly. I spent the whole day trying to connect with him, to communicate. It was challenging but the patient did really well.’

Elaine Cole is RCNi special projects editor

The RCNi Patient’s Choice award is sponsored by Nursing Standard