Automated External Defibrillators: Public Access

Published date : 18 November, 2021
I am the Front-Bench spokesperson, Mr Hollobone.


It is still a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I hope I am not being flippant or not paying due respect to the seriousness of the subject when I say that I almost needed an AED when I heard my name being called early.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) not only on securing the debate, but on his long and distinguished involvement in many measures in this House to advance the cause of expanding the provision of public defibrillators. He is involved with a private Member’s Bill that had run into the procedural buffers, for which he has picked up the baton. I know he has had positive dialogue with the Government, and I very much hope to see that Bill hit the statute book, by whatever means. It could bring real and tangible benefits to so many individuals and families, all across these islands.

Globally, cardiac arrests claim more lives than colorectal cancer, influenza, pneumonia, car accidents, HIV, firearms deaths and house fires combined. In the UK, that translates to around 30,000 people each year losing their lives through experiencing cardiac arrest. Sadly, fewer than one in 10 of those who experience cardiac arrest survive. It is something that can happen to anyone, in any place, at any age, at any time, with little, if any, warning.

All the hon. Members who have spoken, whether through a substantive contribution or a knowledgeable intervention, have made this an excellent debate. We have heard many examples of how early, rapid intervention has either happily saved lives or tragically could have saved a life.

A range of actors help to achieve the best outcomes here that they possibly can. We have heard about the examples of first responders, and we are familiar with the role that our paramedics play. I am pleased to have heard so many Members talk about CPR knowledge. I encourage everyone watching this debate, either live or afterwards, or reading about it in Hansard or in the newspapers, to make time to learn how to perform CPR, if they have not already done so. It could really save a life.

We have heard about, and some of us saw, the tragic events that afflicted Christian Eriksen during the European championships. I was watching with my children, and it was awful having to explain what was very likely happening and not being able to give them, at that time, the happy ending that they wanted. I remember the relief at being able to tell them that he was alive and in hospital. The quick action of his team mates and the medical professionals at the stadium saved him.

I would like to give an example of a case a little bit closer to home, at my former place of study, the University of Stirling. In February 2016, 20-year-old student Finlay Richardson, a third year student, collapsed during lacrosse practice on the university’s training fields. Sports centre staff reacted quickly, realised what was happening and ran and got the sport centre’s defibrillator. They were able to apply it to him. He was taken to the Forth Valley Royal Hospital where I am pleased to say he made a full recovery. In fact, he went on to secure a first class honours degree from the university in environmental science. In both cases, what made the difference, on top of the fast response, was the rapid use and application of automated defibrillators.

Those are two good outcomes, but sadly most outcomes are not positive. The single most effective measure that we could take to improve the survival rate is to increase the coverage of automated defibrillators around the country combined with increasing people’s knowledge about how to perform CPR. In Scotland, over the last five years, the Save a Life Scotland partnership has equipped more than 640,000 people, about 11% of the Scottish population, with CPR skills. At the launch of Scotland’s inaugural out of hospital cardiac arrest strategy in 2015, only about one in 20 people in Scotland who experienced an out of hospital cardiac arrest survived. By 2020, that had risen to one in 10.

The updated strategy for 2021 to 2026 aims to double the number of people equipped with lifesaving CPR skills and make sure that more than 1 million people have them, and to give all school-aged children the opportunity to be equipped with CPR skills. Those measures contribute to the aim of increasing bystander CPR rates to 85% so that a defibrillator can be applied before the ambulance arrives in 20% of cardiac arrests, and it is hoped that they will increase survival rates from out of hospital cardiac arrests from 10% to 15%.

Importantly, some 80% of cardiac arrests occur in the home, but sadly public defibrillators are used in only about 8% of cases. That might be, as hon. Members have said, due to a lack of confidence in how to use them, a lack of understanding, or a lack of knowledge of the location on the part of the individuals or the emergency services. The British Heart Foundation’s The Circuit campaign will be vital in drawing together the information about that lifesaving equipment. We need to increase that rate by ensuring that the locations of automated defibrillators are known and by increasing the public’s knowledge of how to use them.

I am pleased to say that there was a big community effort in the village where I stay in 2019—it is a small community but close knit. The school held fundraising events to buy a defibrillator for the village; we actually now have two. In April 2019—I think, if Facebook has not let me down—we held a training event in the village hall to learn how to use it. We learned about the appropriate pace of heart massage and were told to perform it while imagining that the Bee Gees were singing “Stayin’ Alive” in our head to get the rhythm right—that seems a bit incongruous, but I will not argue with medical experts.

We also learned how to give artificial respiration. The training was a great success in bringing the community together and in ensuring that, if the worst happened in our community, whether to someone who stays, is visiting or is passing through, there is a cohort of people who should be able to make a positive intervention and increase the chance of survival of anyone unfortunate enough to be in that situation.

I welcome the consensus in the Chamber and the Bill of the hon. Member for Strangford. The private sector has been incredibly accommodating and willing to host defibrillators and ensure that they are maintained, but some of our buildings with the highest footfall, particularly in rural areas, are the public ones. It is important to increase that coverage and do all that we reasonably can, through persuasion or by mandating, to ensure that those lifesaving pieces of tech are in place in our public spaces. I am keen to leave as much time as I can for the hon. Gentleman to sum up, so I will conclude by saying that this has been an excellent debate and I look forward to seeing how the House can come together to advance our shared objectives in future.

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