Office and medical staff working in public hospitals are being encouraged to attend a special first aid course to teach them how to respond to patients needing immediate medical attention. Organised by the Hospital Authority's accident and emergency training centre, the one-day course covers theory and practical training, including on how to use an automated external defibrillator to help people whose hearts have stopped. About 1,500 people have attended the course since mid-January. 'The course stresses that hospital staff should contact the accident and emergency department and call 999 when they encounter emergency cases near hospitals,' training coordinator Sunny Lai Shun-hing said. Contacting the accident and emergency department is in line with the 'general principles for handling persons requiring emergency medical assistance in the vicinity of HA hospitals and clinics', a set of guidelines that took effect in January. That followed an incident in December in which a 56-year old man died of heart attack outside Caritas Medical Centre. The hospital's receptionist was criticised for not dialling the emergency number or contacting the accident and emergency department after being alerted to the situation. With more than 120 instructors, the course is aimed at training 8,000 people every year, Mr Lai said. The course is not compulsory, but the authority recommends that employees take it. Upon passing written and practical tests at the end of the course, participants are awarded a certificate from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. Rebecca Lau, an office worker at United Christian Hospital, said she benefited from attending a course. 'Before the course, I wouldn't know what to do if somebody fell in front of me,' she said. 'Now I know I should pat him to see if he's sober or not. And if he was unconscious, I should call the police and inform the hospital.' She said she was confident enough to operate an automated external defibrillator. The authority has bought 172 of the devices since January.