Lack of public defibrillators linked to heart attack deaths

Lack of public defibrillators linked to heart attack deaths


Researchers from the South Central Ambulance Service, Hampshire, and theUniversity of Southampton found that various campaigns to increase public availability and awareness of defibrillators have not worked sufficiently well. There have been several campaigns over the past 12 years to increase the numbers of these life-saving devices in public places and their importance was reiterated in the government’s Cardiovascular Disease Outcomes Strategy, published in March of last year.


The authors said that every minute of delay in administering resuscitation increased the risk of death after a heart attack by between 7% and 10%. Currently, only between 2% and 12% of those who have a heart attack outside hospital survive and there are around 30,000 deaths from heart attacks every year across the UK away from hospitals. Public external defibrillators can be used to shock an arrested heart back into rhythm before the arrival of an ambulance and do not require any specialist expertise.


The authors wanted to check the availability of external defibrillators in the light of the government’s drive to install them in public places such as shopping centres and train stations over the past decade.


For the study, they concentrated on a typical county of England - Hampshire - which has a mix of rural and urban settlements, covering an area of 1,400 square miles, with a population of around 1.76 million, 12% of whom are aged over 70. Across the county, 673 external defibrillators were located in 278 places as of October 2012, including in all large shopping centres. However, only just over one in 10 nursing homes, around one in 20 train stations, and a similar proportion of community centres/village halls had the devices.


The researchers reviewed all calls made to the South Central Ambulance Service between September 2011 and August 2012 following a heart attack. In all emergency calls made from locations other than a person’s home, the ambulance service asked whether the caller could access a defibrillator, and if so, gave instructions on how to use it. During the study period, 1,035 calls were made following confirmed cardiac arrests away from a hospital but in only 44 of these incidents (4.25%) in 34 different locations, was the caller able to access an external defibrillator.


Out of the 44 cases where there was access to a defibrillator, only 18 people were able to attach it to the victim before the arrival of the emergency services. The researchers said this meant there was an overall deployment rate of just 1.74% of all cardiac arrests recorded, which they described as disappointingly low.


They concluded: “The poor survival rates in [out of hospital] cardiac arrest are in part related to delays in defibrillation. More defibrillators are required in public areas and more education is needed to give bystanders the confidence to use the [device] when it is available.” Christopher Allen, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “If we want more people in the UK to survive we need to improve public knowledge of CPR and make defibrillators more widely available. That’s why we’re lobbying for a legal requirement for defibs to be installed in busy public areas.”


By Adrian O'Dowd,


OnMedica, Thursday, 20th February 2014.


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