More than 700 heart defibrillator machines will be installed at railway stations, shopping centres, airports and bus stations, it will be announced today.

Yvette Cooper, the Health minister, and Dr Roger Boyle, the NHS "heart czar", will launch the Government's £2m project to provide rapid response teams for people who suffer a heart attack outside their home.

Ministers decided to back the plan after figures showed that, of the 12,000 people who suffer heart attacks in public places in the UK every year less than three per cent survive.

The life-saving scheme, the first of its kind in Europe, aims to copy the success of similar moves in the United States, where survival rates from cardiac arrest have soared.

The defibrillators, which "jump start" the heart, are simple to use and require minimal training. The ambulance service will show staff how to operate the equipment.

Ms Cooper and Dr Boyle, the National Director for Heart Disease, will launch the scheme at Gateshead's MetroCentre, an out-of-town shopping centre where more than 90 staff have received training for the nine defibrillators to be placed around its site.

Ms Cooper said that the Department of Health recognised urgent action was needed to improve the three per cent survival rate for cardiac victims. "This initiative could help to save the lives of many people," she said.

Dr Boyle said that coronary heart disease was the largest single cause of death in the country and the scheme would help the Government meet its target to cut the death rate by 200,000 by 2010. "The first few minutes after a cardiac arrest are vital to that person's chances of survival. Treatment needs to be provided within that time and these defibrillators will increase the chances of treatment being provided quickly to save a life.

"One of the key objectives in our National Service Framework on Coronary Heart Disease is to provide faster treatment to those with heart problems and this initiative will play a significant part in achieving that goal," he said.

The first sites were identified on the basis of the sheer volume of people who pass through them. Defibrillators will be placed at Leeds railway station and at London mainline stations in the next few weeks.Heathrow airport will receive them in the summer.

The scheme is the brainchild of a Department of Health expert advisory committee made up of the British Heart Foundation, the British Red Cross Society, St John Ambulance, the British Transport Police and the British Cardiac Patients Association.

More than 112,000 people die from heart disease in England every year, with nearly 57,000 suffering heart attacks. Most who die do so at home, but 20 per cent die in public.

A similar scheme at Chicago's O'Hare airport produced dramatic results last year, with five lives saved in a five-week period. Last year, the North East Ambulance Service was called to the MetroCentre 22 times for cardiac incidents. Ron Wood, general manager of the MetroCentre, said: "All the staff trained said that they now feel more confident when faced with a life-threatening situation. We are pleased to be the first to launch it."

Last month, the House of Lords introduced two defibrillators to give peers an on-the-spot emergency service. The machines, which cost £2,500 each, are located in the peers' lobby and nearby offices.