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More defibrillators in public places across the UK could save lives

Posted: 28/02/2017


Calls are being made for defibrillators to be placed in more public spaces, like schools, due to their power to save lives.

Defibrillators, which are small devices often housed in yellow boxes, can deliver a high energy electric shock. When someone has a cardiac arrest, this means that their heart has stopped pumping blood around the body. If an automated external defibrillator is available, it can be used to deliver a high energy shock, helping them to regain a normal heartbeat rhythm. The devices are easy to apply – when the defibrillator is switched on, it explains exactly what to do and when. The person using the machine just has to follow the voice prompts.

St John Ambulance advises that these devices are effective - if someone has a cardiac arrest and CPR and a defibrillator is used within three minutes of them collapsing, the chance of survival could be as high as 70%.

Defibrillators are already available in some public spaces, like stations, work places and public attractions. However, charities, including The British Red Cross and Community HeartBeat Trust, a charity dedicated to increasing the number of public access defibrillators in the UK, would like more defibrillators to be installed.

Over the past couple of months, the tragic deaths of two young children have been reported in the media. Oliver King sadly passed away from an undiagnosed heart condition during a school swimming lesson in 2011. The Oliver King Foundation was set up in 2013 and has been campaigning to get more defibrillators in schools and public places. Lilly-May Page-Bowden also died at school in 2014 after she suffered a cardiac arrest. At the inquest, the coroner ruled that her life could have been saved by a defibrillator.

The Defibrillators (Availability) Bill, which requires all schools to have a defibrillator, is going through Parliament at the moment and is expected to have its second reading debate on Friday 24 March 2017.

While it is undeniable that defibrillators save lives, this is not due to the equipment alone. If someone has a cardiac arrest, it is important to know that, while that person is arresting, there is a very short window of about 5-6 minutes within which to act. For an individual to have any chance of survival, the first person on the scene must call 999 and then use a defibrillator, if one is nearby.

Community HeartBeat Trust is the UK’s leading community defibrillator charity. It started with a handful of rural projects and now undertakes 400 defibrillator installations a year. The charity has worked with BT to install the lifesaving equipment in 160 decommissioned phone boxes and is also raising awareness of cardiac arrests and the narrow window within which action needs to be taken. It offers community sessions on how to spot cardiac arrest and act effectively.

Camilla Wonnacott, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “Sudden cardiac arrests happen 140,000 times each year, making this one of the UK’s biggest killers. Considering the survival rates following prompt use of CPR and a defibrillator, it is clear that the work which the Community HeartBeat Trust and other charities are doing to make defibrillators more widely available is extremely important. This is not just because defibrillators have the ability to save lives but also because they raise awareness of cardiac arrests and the limited window in which action must be taken.”


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