Lifesaving defibrillators should be as “ubiquitous” as fire extinguishers, doctors have said, after research in the UK revealed that the machines were on-hand in public spaces for just four per cent of heart attacks.
The machines, which work by giving an electric shock to the heart to restore its rhythm, are now kept in most shopping centres as well as in some train stations, community centres and other public places.
However, in a study which looked at all calls to an ambulance for heart attacks in one English county in a single year, researchers found that, out of 1,035 calls, the caller could access a defibrillator in only 44 cases.
The caller was actually able to use the defibrillator in only 18 cases, and the report’s authors said that more education was needed to give bystanders the confidence to use the machines, which can save the lives of patients while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
The research was carried out in Hampshire by the University of Southampton and South Central Ambulance Service and is published in the online journal Heart today [Thursday].
Defibrillator treatment on the scene helped save the life of footballer Fabrice Muamba, when he collapsed after a cardiac arrest on the pitch at Whitehart Lane while playing for Bolton against Tottenham in March 2012.
Commenting on the study, American experts Dr Mickey Eisenberg and Tom Rea, of King County Emergency Medical Services, said that defibrillators should be available “in almost every setting” arguing that many homes and businesses are equipped with smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, but few with defibrillators, despite the risks of fire and heart attack being comparably small.
“An automated external defibrillator enables almost anyone to save a life so long as the rescuer has ready access,” they conclude.