Monday 25 March 2013
[Mr David Amess in the Chair]
Sudden Adult Death Syndrome
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the e-petition relating to preventable cardiac deaths arising from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.
I shall explain the slight typographical error in the motion in a second, but Mr Amess, you will have to excuse me if, at times, my throat is a little raw; that, and my slightly delicate disposition when standing or sitting, can be explained by the fact that I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) took part in a charity bike ride from Salford to Liverpool yesterday for the Love Leah charity. We are both suffering, but it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon.
I thank colleagues on the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to hear my application on behalf of the Oliver King Foundation and for providing time in the busy parliamentary schedule for what I hope will be a preliminary debate, with a full debate in the Commons Chamber before the summer recess. Today’s motion enjoys the support of 65 MPs from seven different political parties and every region of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Some Members, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Halton (Derek Twigg)and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), have expressed their disappointment at not being able to be here in person, but they send their full support.
I will use my introductory contribution to set the scene and set out a number of specific areas. Today’s debate is the result of the sterling work by the OK Foundation in setting up an e-petition that attracted more than 110,000 signatures. That is no mean feat—getting 100,000 people to sign any petition is impressive, and it shows the dedication of those involved. I would like to place on record my gratitude to the family and friends of Oliver King, to Councillor Jake Morrison, to Dr Zafar Iqbal of Liverpool FC and to the many committed volunteers who have worked tirelessly to support the OK Foundation’s campaign. It is true to say that we would not be here today were it not for their outstanding efforts.
Unite the Union, the GMB, and the National Union of Teachers have also pledged support for the campaign, and I thank them for their very welcome backing. I also thank our local radio stations and in particular Pete Price and Tony Snell for all they have done to raise awareness of the OK Foundation’s relentless campaign, and to Marc Waddington of the Liverpool Echo for his comprehensive coverage of the issue.
I know colleagues will talk in more detail about the OK Foundation, but I would like briefly to pay tribute to the parents of Oliver King, who have used the tragic death of their beloved son as a mechanism to achieve what they hope will be a lasting and inspiring legacy. Oliver was just 12 years of age when he died of sudden arrhythmic death syndrome. He excelled at sport, but his family were totally unaware of his condition until they received the tragic news of his death in March 2011. Quite simply, Oliver could have been saved if an automatic external defibrillator had been to hand. However, despite their utter devastation at the loss of their child, Mark and Joanne decided to try to prevent other parents from having to go through the same heartache that they had, which has led them here to Westminster and today’s debate, and to their request for the Government to act.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, not only for allowing me to intervene, but for securing the debate. A moment ago, he mentioned a number of hon. Members who could not be here. May I take the opportunity to do something for my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), who cannot speak in the debate by virtue of being a Government Whip? She has a constituency case that mirrors the one the hon. Gentleman describes—that of Joe Humphries, a 14-year-old who died on a training run last October. The tragedy for the family is indescribable, but his father has set up the Joe Humphries Memorial Trust, and a community launch will take place at Rothley parish church on 13 April. I know that they will draw a great deal of comfort and support from the words of the hon. Gentleman and from this debate, and they will know that this House is deeply concerned about this sort of tragic incident.
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his contribution. Until I did some research, I did not realise what a huge problem SADS actually is. I drew out some statistics, which I will share with the Chamber: some 250 people die every single day in the UK as a consequence of sudden arrhythmic death syndrome or one of its counterparts, and some 270 schoolchildren die in British schools from SADS each year. The disease kills more people in Britain every year than lung cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined; it is an absolutely huge issue, and it is fantastic that the OK Foundation has brought it to our attention in Parliament, because Oliver’s story is like that of any of the 60,000 SADS victims across the country each and every year.
The debate is crucial to raise awareness of the condition. We as parliamentarians have to date not done enough to address people’s concerns. I hope the fact that my right hon. Friend the shadow Health Secretary is in his place and will be responding for the Opposition demonstrates just how seriously we are taking the issue. I would like to place on record my thanks to the Leader of the Opposition for meeting campaigners in recent months, which is something that the Health Minister has refused to do so far.
I will briefly outline what sudden arrhythmic death syndrome is—or SADS, as it is known.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain what he just said in more detail? I am very concerned if he is saying that any Minister has refused to meet campaigners. If that is the case, I assure him that it should not be. I certainly do not have any problems with meeting anybody. I know that some people turned up at my constituency office unannounced on a Sunday morning, which was not very helpful—obviously, I was not there—but I am quite happy to meet any campaign group on the issue.
It is fantastic that the Minister has agreed to meet campaigners. Some are here, and if she has time at the end of today’s debate, I am sure that they would be happy to spend a few minutes trying to organise something more substantial in future. I am sure that people will welcome what she has said.
SADS is a term that is used to describe a group of medical conditions that lead to sudden, unexpected and life-threatening instability of the heart rhythm. It has also been commonly referred to, as it is in the motion, as sudden adult death syndrome, but given its propensity to strike in children, it is now often referred to simply as sudden arrhythmic death syndrome. In the majority of cases, the unstable heart rhythm—the arrhythmia—develops a rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, in which the ventricles, which are the main pumping chambers of the heart, lose all rhythm and regularity and start beating at rates in excess of 250 beats per minute. Ventricular fibrillation causes sudden collapse, seizure-like activity and cardiac arrest—in other words, the total loss of heart function—but if it is diagnosed quickly and if cardiac massage and shock from a defibrillator are applied, normal heart rhythm and signs of life can be restored.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He has just touched on the importance of speed in an emergency, and I wonder what level of knowledge, understanding and expertise would be required of a member of the public to be effective in an emergency and to use the defibrillator to the best effect?
All I can tell the hon. Lady is that if I can use a defibrillator, anyone can use one. We had people come into the House to demonstrate what an AED does. I was under the illusion that it was like something out of an episode of “Casualty”: someone picks up two paddles, says, “Stand back—clear,” and applies the shock to the person through that method. It is not like that. An AED is a small computerised unit that talks someone through the process, so believe me, literally anyone can use one. That will destigmatise the use of these devices for certain people who think that if they do it wrong, they will cause further complications.
I declare an interest as a first responder who on a number of occasions has had to attempt resuscitation. Defibrillators are indeed incredibly easy to use. One of the saddest things is turning up at someone’s house and finding people just standing around, worried or frightened that if they attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation, they will cause more damage. Actually, the training that is necessary is minimal. I therefore commend not only the e-petition, but the words of the hon. Gentleman up to now. This is something that is very simple. It is so sad to turn up two or three minutes in and find that people have not started CPR, at which point the chance of survival is so much less.
I will highlight some of the statistical evidence relating to what the hon. Gentleman says, but if nothing else, if we can debunk the myth that we will do damage if we try to intervene and that the use of defibrillators will cause complications, that will be a start. The campaigners who have come here today do not believe that this is the end of a process; rather, it is the start of the momentum that they are building to ensure that this issue is more widely recognised.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important debate. He will share my sadness at the death last week of Eleanor Murphy, who was the mayoress in Barrow last year and who, along with her husband, the mayor, was able to raise £40,000 to buy 20 new defibrillators to be placed around Barrow. Does he agree with me that a great tribute to her life and their effort would be to encourage more firms and shops to agree to have defibrillators on the outside of buildings, which was their big cause towards the end, so that if someone collapses in the street, people do not need to go inside a shop, which might be closed, to be able to save their life? The Co-op is a particular example.
Absolutely. What campaigners, or indeed anyone who is sensible enough to understand that we are in times of austerity, will say is that it is not for the Government to do everything. The example given by my hon. Friend of £40,000 being raised and the example of the OK Foundation, which has put defibrillators in all Liverpool schools, and of other organisations that are doing sterling work, prove that this is a partnership. This is something that charities can help with, but it does demand action from the Government.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Will he join me in congratulating small communities such as Lockerley in my constituency? I learned on Friday night that there is a defibrillator in the village hall, and I was told at a meeting there of, I have to say, predominantly quite elderly people that the instructions for the defibrillator were very easy to understand. They made exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman makes: the machine talks people through the process.
Yes. Certain people expect us, as parliamentarians, to know everything about everything, but actually we do not know an awful lot about an awful lot. I hope that if it does nothing else, today’s debate and the publicity that will be generated through the campaigners will ensure that people are aware of exactly the point that the hon. Lady raises.
I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend, to the OK Foundation and, indeed, to the Backbench Business Committee. He mentioned that the OK Foundation has funded every primary school in Liverpool to have a defibrillator. Does he agree with me that that sends a powerful message throughout the country that that policy should be adopted in all our schools?
My hon. Friend and city of Liverpool colleague will know that where Liverpool leads, others often follow. The hope is that other people will recognise that what Liverpool has done is progressive. It has been done with the help of the mayor of Liverpool, the city council and, of course, the OK Foundation and it will demonstrably save lives. We do not know when that will happen, of course, because we do not know when someone will have an attack, but at some stage, that provision will save someone’s life. That will be a tremendous legacy of all the work and campaigning that the OK Foundation has done.
What is perhaps even more heartbreaking than the sudden loss of life, if such a thing is possible, is the sudden loss of life when it is avoidable. There is a quick, simple and extremely effective device that can save lives. The treatment will not cost millions of pounds in research or development, nor is it a procedure that people require a medical degree to administer. Instead, it is as simple as first aid training in schools and defibrillators in public buildings.
At this point, I declare an interest: I unashamedly want there to be a defibrillator in every public building, in much the same way as there are fire extinguishers and fire alarms in every building. As the London Ambulance Service pointed out in its briefing for today’s debate,
“56 people died in London from a fire in 2011 compared with 10,000 Londoners who suffered an out of hospital cardiac arrest—yet fire extinguishers are statutory in every building—and defibrillators are not”.
We have them here in Parliament. If they are good enough for us in Parliament, they are good enough for every other public building.
I will shortly come on to the main argument with regard to my desire for defibrillators in public buildings, but before I do that, I am keen to touch on another element of tackling SADS: screening. Three young people die each week from SADS, and in more than half of the cases the cause is a genetic problem affecting the heart. I believe that targeted expert assessment of families in which there is a high risk of inherited cardiac disease or in which there has been a sudden unexplained death will lead to a considerable decrease in the number of SADS victims annually. No one is claiming that that is a panacea; it is simply a vital step in the diagnosis of those most at risk.
I praise organisations such as Cardiac Risk in the Young, which is subsidising screening for young people, ensuring that those who believe that they need an ECG—electrocardiogram—can afford one. The OK Foundation and others are also doing that, but screening should be more widely available.
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that Liverpool leads the way. He will be aware, as the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) will be aware, because we were both at the same event, that Liverpool John Moores university does an enormous amount of work on the screening of young sportsmen. A huge amount of work is being done and it is being done, again, in Liverpool.
Again, I could not agree more. John Moores and other universities have done fantastic work. I looked at some of the material from the Football Association. It runs the association football medical screening programme for youth trainees, which involves the screening of 750 youth players. The International Olympic Committee has recommended that all countries screen their athletes to minimise the risk of SADS. That indicates the benefits of screening, so let us look at an early intervention strategy for at-risk groups as an initial step.
Even in the past week, it has been pleasing to see the Football Association and the British Heart Foundation form a £1.2 million fund to ensure that 900 defibrillators are made available to clubs in non-league football and the women’s super league. That is real action that will make a real difference, but although it is encouraging that sport has woken up to this condition and recognised what I would term its social and moral responsibility, there is more work for the medical profession to do and more support for the Government of this country and our partners across the developed world to give.
A simple ECG can expose whether a patient has irregular electrical or structural problems with their heart that can lead to SADS. Currently, however, standard cardiovascular risk assessment screening is not as precise as it needs to be in identifying symptoms relating to sudden cardiac arrest, which is why the British Heart Foundation is undertaking vital research into the genetics around SADS, on which it hopes to publish a report shortly. In the meantime, the Government can play a leading role in encouraging pathologists and coroners who determine that a person has died of SADS to inform immediate family members to ensure that they receive an ECG at the earliest possible opportunity. The Government should also support the medical industry’s work to improve the scientific precision of screening. Such Government measures should form part of the proposed new national strategy to improve heart safety and reduce preventable deaths from sudden cardiac arrest, as set out in the motion.
I hope that today’s debate and any subsequent debates will achieve a number of things, but it is pivotal that the imperative relationship between CPR and defibrillators is exposed: a defibrillator on its own cannot save a life; CPR on its own has an outside chance of saving a life, but the two together have a more than 50% chance of saving a life. How do we know? Ask people such as Fabrice Muamba. His collapse on a football pitch, in front of thousands of spectators at White Hart Lane and millions watching on television, was perhaps the most graphic illustration of SADS, and his recovery is the best example of what can be achieved with swift and targeted intervention.
Bystanders witness more than half the cardiac arrests that occur in public, but not enough people have the life-saving skills to help those heart attack victims. CPR is the first action in the chain of survival and is crucial in the first minutes after a cardiac arrest, because it helps keep oxygen moving around the body, including the brain, which is why the British Heart Foundation campaign tells us to phone 999 and press hard and fast to the beat of “Staying Alive”. It is a simple message, which works, and we have all seen it on television. CPR essentially buys a patient time. A defibrillator starts the heart, but cannot be used on a still heart, so unless CPR is administered, a defibrillator is effectively useless.
That point is crucial, and is at the heart of—forgive the pun—why colleagues and I, in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh, chose to include first aid in today’s motion. Medical experts believe that CPR combined with a defibrillator shock can triple the survival chances of somebody who has suffered a cardiac arrest outside hospital. I shall repeat that: it can triple survival chances. That is extraordinary. CPR and a defibrillator shock can buy paramedics time to arrive, prevent serious brain damage and ultimately increase the chance of a full recovery. I am not sure that there is any need for further debate. If someone’s child or loved one had a cardiac arrest, would they not want to triple their chance of survival?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. I add my sentiments to those expressed already on the wonderful work that the OK Foundation and the King family have done. I pay tribute to South Central ambulance service, which does wonderful training in my constituency. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although it is tremendous that community organisations have invested in equipment and training in their localities, a benefit of a national push, such as that that we had with digital hearing aids, is that it drives down the cost of equipment and training, no matter who pays for it? It is important to get across that message about why we should put more oomph behind such work.
It is an excellent point, which I will mention later in my contribution. The hon. Lady is absolutely right. If we persuaded the Government, Government bodies, large organisations or a combination of people to purchase AEDs, the price would plummet because they would order in bulk. I think they are £1,200 to £1,500 per unit at the moment, but empirical evidence from other countries shows that, when they are purchased in large volumes, their price comes down to almost 40% of the original cost.
Finally, I shall address directly what the Government can do to help, and it is simple: legislation. It can be done in a controlled and progressive manner and, in the current economic conditions, it need not cost the earth. Legislate first in education: enshrine mandatory emergency life skills training in the curriculum; ensure that every child who walks out of school at 16 or 18 possesses life-saving skills, and ensure that this Parliament, here and now, commits to having a new generation of life savers. We have the support to do it. Will we need to come back with another 100,000 signatures to get the Government to act? According to a British Heart Foundation survey in 2011, 86% of school teachers agree that such skills should be part of the curriculum, 78% of children said that they wanted to be taught how to save someone’s life in an emergency, and 70% of parents thought that children should be taught emergency life skills in school. When we place emergency life skills education in the context of my earlier point about the relationship between CPR and defibrillators, we begin to see just how many lives we could save daily, monthly and yearly.
The Government, though the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, should introduce legislation such as the Canadian province of Manitoba’s Defibrillator Public Access Act. In Canada, public consultation and medical expertise identified the most likely places for a person to suffer a cardiac arrest—apart from in hospital, of course—and legislated to ensure that all those buildings, such as gyms, football stadiums, golf courses, schools and airports, had to have an AED fitted by January 2014.
There is also a financial argument: fitting AEDs could save the NHS millions of pounds, because survivors would not need the same degree of critical care or, potentially, aftercare. To discredit further the myth that it would be too expensive, let us once again put it into context: a defibrillator costs about the same as a PC and if we put AEDs in public buildings, that cost will come down, as the hon. Lady identified, as it does for other equipment ordered in bulk.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene again. It occurs to me that he said earlier that there are defibrillators in this building, but I am ashamed to say that I do not know where they are. I do not know if I am alone in that. It is important therefore not only to have them in buildings and for people to know how to use them, but for people to know where they can be found. There is no time in an emergency to wonder where one is—everybody needs to know.
The hon. Lady is right, but there are people who know where the defibrillators are. On behalf of the OK Foundation, I asked a few police officers. We are very cosseted here. People such as police officers and other security staff know where the defibrillators are. She is right in that, just as there has to be a chart that says where the fire extinguishers or first aiders are—where someone can get treatment should they cut themselves—the same process should apply to identifying where the nearest AED is. It is not beyond the realms of Parliament for us to pull together legislation to cover the good point she raises.
I know about the costs associated with AEDs. The Association of Primary Schools and the OK Foundation said that every primary school in Liverpool should have one, which would be a considerable benefit. They have now got an AED, which they purchased together, fitted in each school. Pinehurst primary school in my constituency was the first to benefit, but now all 122 primary schools in the city have AEDs. As I said earlier, where Liverpool leads, the rest of the country needs to follow, because AEDs will save young people’s lives. We need to make that happen across the whole country and encourage our devolved partners to follow suit.
I conclude by reiterating why today’s debate matters. We cannot put a price on a life. If something practical can be done that has the ability to save a life and falls within what we politicians might call the envelope of affordability, we in Parliament have a duty to act. In times of austerity, when we look for ways of saving money and reducing the burden on the NHS, investing in screening research and equipping an entire future generation with emergency life-saving skills that will keep people alive, increase survival rates and reduce the demand on hospital care is a step we should all support. Every minute that goes by after a person has suffered a cardiac arrest reduces their survival chances by 10%. Although CPR can keep the heart going, it is not enough in itself. Britain should aspire to achieve survival rates such as those in Seattle, where more than 50% of sudden cardiac arrests lead to a full recovery. Our survival rate is currently somewhere between 2% and 12%.
Now is the time to act and for Parliament to say, “Enough is enough.” Now is the time for levels of screening of young people to increase, for teaching CPR to be mandatory in schools, and for the Government to initiate a new legal requirement for a defibrillator to be installed in all schools and prominent public places. We need a cohesive national strategy to improve heart safety in the UK. I hope that Government Front Benchers are listening. They have the political authority to address the issue. Let us hope that they have the moral fibre that is needed to act.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and everybody who signed the e-petition on securing this debate; 100,000 signatures is an incredible amount to reach. I pay tribute to everybody who signed. It is good to have the Minister and the shadow Secretary of State here. I am happier seeing the shadow Secretary of State here than I was to see him attend a college in Goole recently. As welcome as he is, normally, perhaps he can stay here in future; that would be more beneficial. Alas.[Interruption.] That was a back-handed compliment, by the way.
I also want to pay tribute to the OK Foundation and the British Heart Foundation for the work that they do in raising awareness. It is fantastic to hear about the work that has been undertaken in Liverpool. I do not necessarily agree that where Liverpool leads, the country always follows, or indeed that Liverpool always leads, but on this occasion I pay tribute to what has been achieved on the wrong side of the Pennines.
I intervened on the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton and talked about the work that I do with the Yorkshire ambulance service as a community first responder. I want to talk about that and how that has got me alive to the issue and really changed my views. It has made me quite passionate. Becoming a first responder has been the thing that I have been most proud of in my life. I am prouder of that than getting elected to this place. Before that, my proudest achievement was passing my driving test on the sixth or seventh occasion. Being a first responder has become the thing that I am most proud of.
I set up a scheme covering Goole, Hook and Airmyn: only three of the 75 communities that I represent, sadly. We did not have a scheme there. We had terrible ambulance response rates. I met the ambulance service and it set me a challenge to do something about it, so we set up a scheme. We have 10 volunteers. My staff in the Goole constituency office have all been trained and they provide cover during the day as first responders. In the evening, members of the community provide cover. We have all become good friends. We are all from different walks of life in the town. They cover evenings and I cover weekends, along with one of my councillors, who lives just round the corner.
I pay tribute to all the volunteers who put themselves forward for first responding in my constituency, both with Yorkshire ambulance service and in the Lincolnshire part of my constituency through LIVES, the Lincolnshire Integrated Voluntary Emergency Service. The volunteers do a fantastic job. They get no publicity for it, which perhaps we as MPs get. They deserve all credit for the lives that they save and the impact that they have. I have seen the impact in my short time doing such work. We set up the scheme about six months ago. We never expected to be as busy in our community as we have ended up being, having attended about 45 calls in our first four months, which is significant.
I want to talk about the training to prove how easy it is. We did our training as first responders over a weekend. It was two full days. The training included oxygen therapy and training for the other types of incidents that we attend. The CPR and defibrillator training took place on the first day. We practised scenarios and it was incredibly simple and easy. It is as simple as the hon. Gentleman said. The defibrillators spoke to us. The first thing they say is, “Tear open packages. Place one pad upper left.” I do not like hearing that now. It strikes fear into me, having had to use them. They talk people through the procedure and the training really is simple. I came away from that training thinking to myself, “How on earth can people not know how to do this?” It is staggering that we require people to be trained in all kinds of other things in their work environment. People have to learn the inside-out of all sorts of health and safety legislation for various jobs, but we do not teach people something as simple as starting chest compressions on somebody. As the hon. Gentleman said in his speech, people fear that they can do more harm than good, but if someone is in cardiac arrest, people can do no more harm than that.
So, we got our scheme up and running and we had our weekend of training. We do ongoing training every month. We have just had a weekend at the Hull York medical school in Hull going through various scenarios to try to enhance our skills, but that is an add-on to the basic training. I thought that we would not get many calls to begin with, but we were very busy. One of the first calls that I attended was a cardiac arrest, which, sadly, was at the furthest point of the three-mile radius that we cover. I got there first, within about six or seven minutes. Even though we had done all our training, I thought that six or seven minutes would be all right. It was a pretty terrifying drive on the way there for my first cardiac arrest.
I turned up in my first responder uniform and all of a sudden everyone was looking at me. However, the training kicks in and straight away I was doing chest compressions, getting the defibrillator up, getting the oxygen going and barking instructions at people to get what was needed from the bag. I thought, “If I can do this, anybody can.” It was the confidence gained from that weekend of training that led to my trying to resuscitate somebody. Unfortunately, it was not successful. I drove away that night, got home and thought about it. It had taken me a few minutes to get there. When I arrived, people were already there. A neighbour had tried to start CPR, but of course that was done through instructions over the telephone. The gentleman was not old and I thought to myself, “If only somebody had been there to start instantly. Why don’t we all know this?” I became passionate about it. Most of our calls tend to be for heart attacks, diabetics and strokes, which can end in a slightly more positive outcome.
The second cardiac arrest that I attended was in a nursing home. A responder from the neighbouring scheme and I were the first people on the scene. On that particular occasion, nursing home staff had not commenced CPR, for whatever reason, and I thought, “Well, why—in nursing homes?” There are so many calls—just on Saturday night, my phone went at 2.30 am about a cardiac arrest at a nursing home in Goole—and they increasingly tend to be from nursing homes. I thought, “Why do we not have a defibrillator in every nursing home?” I notice that the state of Texas passed a law in 2009 to require a defibrillator in every nursing home.
The Minister obviously cannot respond about the curriculum, although I am sure that she will pass such comments on to the relevant Minister, but she could do something about nursing homes. One of my requests is that she simply requires every nursing home, at its own expense—for heaven’s sake, most of them are private organisations—to have on site a defibrillator, which costs less than £1,000, including for the training.
I live two doors away from a nursing home in my village. As a result of reading about what we have been doing locally, the parish council is proactively trying to get a defibrillator in the nursing home for general community use. That is something that we can achieve simply and without great cost to the taxpayer. The same goes for assisted living centres or sheltered housing complexes, where we should require there to be defibrillators.
I have to say—playing a little to the gallery—that, since I started first responding, I have become such an admirer of our ambulance crews and their work. I am playing to the gallery, but of course we are not allowed to refer to people in the Public Gallery. I have seen how busy those guys are. They are constantly called out and they are called out more and more, for which they do not necessarily get credit. They are the true last emergency service: when all else fails, the ambulance service is called on. They sometimes struggle to respond to all the calls in our areas, and there is no doubt that we must do something about that. Demand on our ambulance crews for service is increasing every year, and we must follow through on that with proper resources so that we do not end up with their taking too long to get to a cardiac arrest or other emergencies.
As a result of that work and becoming quite passionate about it, I started to think about the role in schools. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton said that 270 young people die of sudden cardiac arrest every year. I worked in government in the United States about 10 or 12 years ago, when we put through the legislature of New Jersey a requirement for a defibrillator to be placed in every school in the state. That happened, and a several other states followed suit, but that was back in 2000, and here we are in 2013, debating this issue in the House—probably for the first time in a long while—with no requirement in this country. Frankly, that seems bonkers to me.
I talked to the East Midlands ambulance service, which covers the other part of my constituency, a few weeks ago after having seen the ITV programme about sudden cardiac arrest and life-saving skills in Norway, and we put in a bid to the local council. Just this morning, my local North Lincolnshire council considered my grant application for defibrillators, and I am told that it has approved the bid to put one in all secondary schools in the north Lincolnshire part of my constituency and in the schools in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers). Indeed, it will go further: the council portfolio holder rang me this afternoon to say that it will guarantee a defibrillator in every secondary school, not just those in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend, and that will happen soon.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituents. I always think that it is a bit easier for us, as MPs, to bang the drum and to get people behind us, but it is fantastic for residents to do so and to raise such an amount of money, so I pay tribute to them as well. A lot of that is going on around the country, but frankly there needs to be more.
Our bid in north Lincolnshire was also to ask schools to filter training down to young people, as part of the deal of their accepting a defibrillator paid for from the grant, so it does not only relate to use on school sites. I hope that if there is a cardiac arrest—not that I hope for one, but if there is—a young person from north Lincolnshire with that training will be there, so that they can put their training into use, although I would prefer them not to have to do so. The Scunthorpe Telegraph, the local newspaper, rang me today to say that it is quite keen to get behind that and might want to run a campaign about it, so I shall wait to hear more. We can try to use the National Citizen Service to filter down that training.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his excellent speech. He mentioned the Scunthorpe Telegraph, and does he agree that the media have a crucial role? Will he join my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and me in praising the brilliant work done by the Liverpool Echo with the OK Foundation?
Members of Parliament are never backward in coming forward to praise their local newspapers, not least in the hope that it guarantees them a friendly quote next week, but the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Newspapers can be part of our going out to challenge—I do not want to say “shame”—businesses. I am a Conservative and I love businesses, but businesses make profits and do so on the back of their workers, to whom they have responsibility. [Interruption.] Well, I think that I am a Conservative. Of course, I am; or just the Brigg and Goole party these days, perhaps. [Interruption.] Well, I am certainly not a Liberal Democrat—no offence to my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (John Pugh)—because my views on Europe count me out.
Newspapers have a responsibility to go to businesses and challenge them, particularly big businesses. I understand that defibrillators would be expensive for smaller ones and those employing only one or two people, but we should ask big businesses, “What are you doing for the welfare of your workers? Where are your defibrillators?” Newspapers such as the Liverpool Echo and the Scunthorpe Telegraph have an important role to play in that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I congratulate him on his excellent speech, which follows another excellent one. Does he agree that there is a good argument that we can build an Olympic legacy based on the great volunteers who took part in the games by considering whether we can use some of the skills that they helped to bring to the games, and take those skills into the issues of training people and campaigning for defibrillators, which he has identified?
Indeed. My way to address the problem is to have a multi-faceted approach. In many ways, it has to come from the bottom up. We need people in communities to say, “I will be trained and I am happy to filter down that training, and I am even happy to knock on some doors to raise some money to get defibrillators in our communities.” A lot of parish councils have money in the bank, so we should go to them as well. We need a bottom-up approach through volunteers and the Olympic legacy, as the Minister says, but there is also a role for the Government to say to nursing homes and schools, “We want and expect you to provide a defibrillator, which is relatively cheap,” and of course to say the same to businesses. Is it not true corporatism to bring all three of those elements together? As I have said, there is a role for businesses in looking after the welfare of their workers in that way.
Goole high school has a pilot this year in which everyone in year 11 has been funded to go through the National Citizen Service. I have suggested to the head teacher that, as part of the community payback for that, all those young people should be trained in CPR this summer. Therefore, 100 or 200 young people in that community in Goole will leave at the end of the summer having received training, which is 200 more advocates for the whole issue and potentially 200 more life-savers.
I would be quite happy to see that happen. We can leave it to schools to decide how to deliver such learning, but even if we cannot put it in the national curriculum, we should say to schools that they should look to offer such training as an add-on.
I was clearly going to say something about Wisconsin next, as it is written here on a note, but it has gone out of my head. Something jolly good is happening in Wisconsin, which we should look at and perhaps copy if indeed it is a good thing.
Another way to address the matter is through teacher training programmes. Again, that is in the gift of Government and is relatively inexpensive to do. Simply put, we should require teachers, as part of their teacher training, to go through a morning of CPR training.
I end my contribution where I began, by congratulating the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton on securing the debate. I congratulate, too, all those who have taken part in the debate through the e-petition and who support this campaign. This is a matter of life and death, and a matter where not just minutes but seconds count. We all have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that we improve the appalling rates of survival for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in this country.
I am pleased to be serving under your wise chairmanship, Mr Amess. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) who brought to this debate some very particular knowledge, the scope of which, I suspect, none of the rest of us has. It was really interesting to listen to what he had to say.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on introducing the debate, which he did not only with his usual thoroughness but in a very accessible way. That will be much appreciated by those involved in campaigning. Finally, I thank the Oliver King Foundation for keeping the issue alive and for raising awareness of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who has left the Chamber, spoke about the print media. Although I accept that they can have a positive role to play in promoting such issues, it is a double-edged sword, because their coverage of bereavement is often both intrusive and inaccurate, so we should not indulge in an orgy of congratulation. If the Press Complaints Commission had had any teeth, the print media would often have been condemned for the way they have covered bereavement.
I shall cover some of the same ground as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton, but with perhaps a slightly different perspective. He was right to say that as much knowledge as possible needs to be disseminated about how to keep blood pumping, which is basically what we are talking about, and about the use of defibrillators. If we talk to people about being trained so that they will be able to act if a defibrillator is available—this issue was brought out well by the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole and by my hon. Friend—the thing they are concerned about is not necessarily being taught how to use the modern device, but whether they will be able to recognise accurately what they are confronted with. That is often a barrier for many people, but I say rather brutally that the alternative to making a mistake is taking no action at all, which can be fatal. In many cases, that is the choice that people are confronted with.
My second point is about the availability of defibrillators and training in how to use them. Yes, we need them in schools and in public buildings, but there is also an argument, which should be debated, that they should be available in every workplace of significant size. At the end of the day, the powerful case that was set out by my hon. Friend to address the situation hinges on having both defibrillators available and people able to use them. Indeed, the more defibrillators that are available in more diverse places, the more lives will be saved.
My hon. Friend mentioned the availability of fire extinguishers, which is a really good comparison; another is smoke alarms. The impact that smoke alarms have had on detecting fires has been phenomenal. We are now at a point where almost every household has, or should have, a smoke alarm installed. I am not saying that every household should have a defibrillator, but the more widespread these safety and intervention measures are, the more effective they can be.
Finally, there is an overpowering case for screening. For several years now, I have been involved in the all-party group for cardiac arrest in the young, which does an excellent job in campaigning for widespread screening. Personally, I would like every young person to have the opportunity to be screened, because regardless of whether they believe that they might have a problem, the availability of screening would mean that they would, wherever possible, know what happens—in other words, we are talking about screening age groups that might be vulnerable to this sort of problem. However, screening is not easy to access at the moment. Also, where there has been a fatality or where someone has been diagnosed as being vulnerable, there is often a genetic component, so it is possible that other members of the family might be vulnerable as well, but in one case in my constituency, siblings wanted to be screened after they had tragically lost their brother, but they had to go to great extremes and be extremely persistent to access the screening service. That is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed.
Let me finish on a helpful note. Earlier, the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) said that the campaign needed a bit of “oomph” behind it. That is a good way of describing what we would all like to see as a result of today’s debate. If the Minister can address the problem, she might perhaps be known as the Minister for “oomph”.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on securing this debate, after 110,000 people made their voices heard through the e-petition system. This is a genuinely important debate about action that we can take to help save lives. I join hon. Members in recognising the work of Mark King in setting up the Oliver King Foundation, Councillor Jake Morrison, and the King family and other supporters. They have indeed been the driving force behind bringing such prominence to the devastating impact of sudden cardiac death. My hon. Friend described the tragic circumstances surrounding Oliver’s death and the drive of Oliver’s family to prevent such a tragedy happening unnecessarily to anybody else. The family should be sincerely commended and thanked for their work.
In the Government’s response to the e-petition, they said:
“Sudden cardiac death is a very complex issue. It can be caused by a range of different conditions.”
I think that everybody affected by SADS understands that it is indeed a complex issue; there are no easy answers, quick solutions or magic cures for all cases. At the same time, however, there is recognition that more can and should be done, because lives can be saved. There are two facts that we cannot ignore: first, that 80% of sudden cardiac arrests occur outside hospital; and, secondly, that survival rates have not improved since the 1960s.
In my opinion, there is a consistent theme that runs through the e-petition and the related petitions, through the work of the Oliver King Foundation, SADS UK, Cardiac Risk in the Young, the British Heart Foundation, and through the work of people such as the Marshall family and Sue Murrin-Bailey in my constituency of West Lancashire. The theme is that the Department of Health should do more to enable communities to be better informed about this condition, better trained to respond when an incident happens and better equipped to save lives.
I will take just a few moments to highlight some of the excellent work taking place in West Lancashire that is helping to save lives and to reduce the number of deaths caused by sudden cardiac arrest. John Marshall was an incredibly talented young footballer from Ormskirk; he had represented England on 12 occasions and had been signed by Everton football club. Devastatingly, John died the day before his Everton career was due to start. John’s family—his mother Maureen, dad John, and sister Hayley—have spent most of the last 18 years raising awareness and raising funds, so that other families do not have to suffer the terrible loss that they did.
Thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Marshall family, working with CRY, free heart screenings were made available to young people at Edge Hill university—in fact, the latest screening event took place just 10 days ago. Alison Cox of CRY has said that since John Marshall died in 1995, more than 10,000 young people under the age of 35 have died suddenly from undiagnosed heart conditions, yet around 9,000 of those young people could still be alive if they had been tested for heart conditions.
I now move on to the work of Sue Murrin-Bailey, the former West Lancashire borough council mayoress. Providing defibrillators was one of her chosen charities during her year as mayoress; she worked tirelessly to raise funds and that work has continued since her term as mayoress ended. At a school where Sue is a governor, a parent collapsed with cardiac arrest: luckily an ambulance was nearby, so that parent was saved, but the case highlighted the need for much-needed life-saving equipment to be nearby.
Sue has raised £35,000, which has enabled the purchase of 21 automated external defibrillators, but having raised the money and purchased the equipment, Sue and the North West ambulance service have encountered other barriers. Astonishingly, there appear to be planning restrictions that are delaying the installation of the equipment in some public places. The Minister looks surprised; I was absolutely astonished to learn that. The problem is about locating yellow boxes in conservation areas. Perhaps we should put a higher price on the conservation of human life. I urge the Minister to speak to her colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to ask them to remove those senseless barriers. I am happy to provide the Minister with even more detail about the issue after the debate, if she wants it.
Sue Murrin-Bailey has been working with the North West ambulance service to identify the best locations for the equipment, through hot spot mapping to identify where the highest incidences of cardiac arrest are found and where the equipment is most needed. Once a defibrillator is installed, the NWAS catalogues the location on its database, which enables the location of the defibrillator to be provided to anyone when a 999 call is made. That information is vital when we consider that the use of an AED within four to eight minutes of sudden cardiac arrest increases the survival rate by 75%. All of these things are essential in the chain of survival, and as I said earlier, 80% of these cases occur away from hospital.
Many people experiencing sudden cardiac arrest are reliant on the people around them knowing what to do, and those first few minutes are key. People need to know that, first, they must call 999; secondly, they must administer CPR while a defibrillator is located and used—it is important that it is actually used—before, thirdly, they pass the patient on to receive advanced care.
A better informed public will not come about through telepathy or osmosis. The public need help and the Department of Health is surely the best equipped agency to lead nationally. As the Minister will understand, up and down the country, organisations, bereaved families and local communities have not been waiting for the Department of Health to take the lead on SADS. People have been out there doing something—raising money and providing equipment—but they recognise that more action needs to be taken now, so that more deaths can be prevented. What people want is the Department of Health to work with them in making a difference, in saving lives and in reducing the number of deaths caused by sudden cardiac arrest. Surely that is not too much to ask?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on securing this debate. It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) and other Members who have made constructive contributions. Compared with some other debates that I have been involved with in recent weeks and months, the unanimity today is a refreshing change.
I pay tribute not only to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton and the other Members who are in Westminster Hall today, but to the people—more than 110,000 of them—who signed the online petition that was set up by the Oliver King Foundation. Indeed, I pay tribute to the King family, Jake Morrison and all those who have been instrumental in taking forward the campaign. I also thank the Minister for agreeing to meet campaigners; that is very important. It shows the public interest in and the importance of the issues that we are debating today.
As you might be able to tell from my accent, Mr Amess, I am not actually from Merseyside, Liverpool or the north-west.
Well, I am fifth-generation from that area actually, so I have a connection with it. However, I am from the north-east and I know that many colleagues from the north-east and from across the whole country are concerned and share the aims of the OK Foundation, so I hope the Minister will support the campaign to provide defibrillators in all public buildings.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton referred to the protection that we enjoy here in the Palace of Westminster. I tried to find out precisely how many defibrillators there are in the Palace. There are notices about them at the end of every corridor, including my corridor, and I found that there are actually 16 defibrillators in the Palace. Somebody here obviously knows the importance of early defibrillation in the event of a cardiac arrest, and they are to be complimented for that. The general public should enjoy a similar level of protection.
This is a matter of life and death. As my hon. Friend said, an estimated 60,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur each year and, incredibly, of the 30,000 cases attended by medical professionals, fewer than one in five of the people affected receive the life-saving intervention they need following a survivable cardiac arrest. I did not realise until I looked at the numbers involved quite how mind-boggling they are. There are nearly 100,000 deaths each year in the UK due to cardiac arrest, which is more than 250 a day, making it one of the UK’s biggest killers.
Hon. Members have already mentioned the British Heart Foundation’s high-profile “Staying Alive” campaign and information film on hands-only CPR. The House will be relieved to know, Mr Amess, that I shall not attempt to sing it or repeat it, but that was a successful campaign. It is reported that in November 28 lives were saved by people who learnt how to administer CPR from the advert headed up the footballer Vinnie Jones, or were inspired by it to take further lessons and coaching, and I imagine that that number is even higher today.
I was surprised by the UK’s record on emergency life-support skills. A British Red Cross survey found that only 7% of people in the UK have first aid skills, compared with 80% of people in Scandinavian countries and a similar figure in Germany. I was surprised, because in the area where I grew up and have always lived, there was quite a strong tradition with the St John Ambulance, and so on, so I expected the figures to be higher, but perhaps it is a function of the society in which we live. That is a major omission and I hope that the Minister takes note of it.
A further survey of public support carried out by the British Heart Foundation found that 73%—almost three quarters—of schoolchildren wanted to learn how to resuscitate someone and give first aid, and more than three quarters of teachers and parents agreed that it would be a good thing to be taught in schools. I hope that the Minister will speak with her counterparts in the Department for Education and press for these life-saving first aid skills to be a core part of the national curriculum, to ensure that all young people leave school equipped with the ability to save a life. That would be really worthwhile.
We know that time matters when cardiac arrest occurs. For every minute that passes following a cardiac arrest and before CPR is administered, the chances of survival are reduced by around 10%. Although CPR can buy more time, defibrillation is the only effective treatment for cardiac arrest caused by ventricular fibrillation, where the heart quivers and stops pumping blood around the body. The British Heart Foundation has found that, for every minute that passes without defibrillation, chances of survival decrease by 14%. We have heard how CPR can improve the chances of survival. We have also heard about research that shows that applying a controlled shock within the first five minutes of collapse provides the best chance of survival. It is therefore essential that defibrillators are readily available, particularly in places where there is higher incidence of cardiac arrest or where it might be difficult for emergency services to arrive quickly.
I applaud the efforts of one of my local newspapers, The Northern Echo, which has been running the “A Chance to Live” campaign in my region, promoting the use of defibrillators in public places, particularly gymnasiums, where there is a greater risk of cardiac arrest occurring both before and after strenuous effort. I am pleased to note—we did a bit of a survey—that all the local authority and council-run gyms in the north-east have defibrillators and staff trained to use them. It has been reported, however, that 80% of private gyms do not have some form of life-saving equipment available; it does not seem to matter whether it is a small gym or one of the larger, more up-market leisure gyms. When challenged about the lack of defibrillators in their gyms, Bannatynes, headquartered in Darlington, issued a statement explaining that they did not have defibrillators because
“they are a specialist piece of medical equipment, which should only be operated by a qualified medical professional.”
I do not know if hon. Members have any contact with Duncan Bannatyne, or if he will get a copy of this debate, but having heard the comprehensive, complete and compelling case advanced by my hon. Friend, it is clear that it is not necessary to have comprehensive training to use a defibrillator. I hope that in the course of this debate we can put to bed this misconception.
As we have heard, modern defibrillators are designed to be used by untrained members of the public; they provide audio and visual instructions to the user and the machines will automatically diagnose the patient and deliver an electric shock only if it is necessary. To provide a medical opinion, as we have the Minister here, in my area in County Durham, Dr Harry Byrne, vice chairman of NHS Darlington clinical commissioning group, has described defibrillators as the
“single greatest advance in out of hospital cardiac assistance since the invention of chest compressions or CPR…You don’t have to be a trained first aider to use one. You just pull it out of the box and follow the instructions step by step. It even tells you what to do”,
as we have heard, from my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy).
A defibrillator is an essential life-saving piece of equipment and I hope defibrillators will become common, not just in schools, but in workplaces, too. Hon. Members have suggested that they should be in shopping centres and nursing homes. They should be in community buildings as well. Certainly, though, they should be in schools. I agree with my hon. Friend that they should be as common as fire extinguishers and smoke alarms. I hope that the Minister supports these measures and will be proactive in protecting the public and ensuring that everyone, no matter where they live and work, has the best chance of surviving cardiac arrest.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on the fine way that he introduced it. I pay tribute to the campaigners who have given Parliament an appropriate kick in the pants to ensure that this issue is debated with proper time. This is a great opportunity for us to look at what can be done and the best way to do it. I will be giving the Minister some proposals on how this can be taken forward that will not cost her any money—there are ways that Governments can spend money, but some suggestions are cost-neutral.
By a remarkable coincidence, in Bassetlaw we are about to launch a campaign. When we agreed to launch it, I did not know that this debate would take place. After we had set our campaign dates, I got some e-mails and twitters telling me about it—[Interruption.] Tweets, apparently. Anyway, I got them, read them and responded. There was a good bit of pressure, but we had already decided, because we have a campaign group that has been battling. People power has brought this debate here, and we had our own people power in our ambulance campaign in the east midlands, which was resolved today—the Minister will want to know this, because I doubt whether she had anyone in the meeting this morning, but I did.
In our area, we put forward the idea that, rather than have all our ambulance stations closed, going down to none, we should have them kept open and have three. We have won. All three are being kept open, as a result of people power. The number of fully crewed ambulances with qualified staff will remain as is, rather than being cut. I asked for six guarantees—I put it in writing—and got the formal answers on the record this morning. We won that campaign.
I offered the ambulance service a bit of a deal when I met it. Our group, the “Save Our Services” campaign, which just so happens to include Councillor Adele Mumby and Mr Gavin Briers, community first responders, and various others, has campaigned with me and the local council on this matter. I said, “Look, I’ve seen some figures that say Bassetlaw has a less than 2% survival rate. However, in Lincolnshire, it is apparently 11%. Hang on a minute. I don’t know who’s not been informing me about this, and I’ve not seen these figures before, but if our survival rate is under 2%, and Lincolnshire’s is 11%, something’s wrong.” When I looked into it, the community first responders were clear about what is needed: they said we need defibrillators everywhere in our community and we need training.
We have therefore agreed the Bassetlaw defibrillator campaign, which we are launching on 11 April. It will be an unusual campaign, compared with some. I have heard a lot of medical jargon, but we will not be using any of that, because I cannot follow it, and I am the MP. Many of my constituents will have more medical knowledge than me, but some will not be able to follow that jargon, so we will keep the campaign really simple. It is going to be like this. Every school will have to have a defibrillator; those that do not will get a visit from me to hold their governors to account. I do not care who funds this: the council, the county council or the school governors. The Lions are also raising money. What I do care about, though, is that the defibrillator is registered with the ambulance service, which can then do the training to make sure the defibrillator is properly used.
I have been to have a look at a defibrillator, and I was photographed trying one out. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton, I know how simple they are; us simple guys, we can get it. It is easy to use one, and I can do it. However, I want to make sure the systems are good, and I want people to think them through. That is important for the kids. When I was 11, a lad in my class at school died suddenly, so I am very aware of the problem. However, I also want to make sure the community can use these defibrillators, so we are not stopping just at schools, although if a school does not want to have a defibrillator, I will name and shame them. I am sure they all want one, and some have them already, but they should all want to participate fully.
To help, the Minister could have a word with the Secretary of State for Education, as others have said. I could suggest bits of the national curriculum that could be dropped. We could lose a king or queen who is long dead, and put in a bit about defibrillators. If the Minister or the Education Secretary wants to come up with other bits of the national curriculum we could lose, I do not mind, but they should get these issues on the curriculum, so that everyone in school learns about it. In areas such as mine, the children will then go back home and teach the old folk such as me—the grandparents and all the rest of them—the skills they have; they will tell them what to do. That knowledge will spread through the community like wildfire; that is what I want.
However, there is more than that. My neighbour, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), is well trained, and I am glad that he is, because I do not live too far from him. However, nursing homes are provided by the health service, county councils and others, and they are licensed by the CSQ—
The Minister knows them. She could have a word with these bodies and insist that homes have a defibrillator. What are they doing employing staff who have not been trained? We should insist they train them; we should make it part of the licensing process. It costs the Government nothing; it is also good business practice for the private homes and good public practice for the publicly run homes.
However, we can do more than that. The Retford, Gainsborough and Worksop Times has agreed to back and publicise the campaign, and it is going to do a sticker. Every building—say, a shop—that has a defibrillator will get good publicity. It will not need me to go there for a photograph to launch it, although I am available, if any shop wants me; they would regard that as good publicity. They can have the Minister if they really want. The sticker will tell people the defibrillator is in the shop. To me, that is a really obvious step.
However, I want more than that. We give a lot of money to sport. Another mate of mine got taken ill playing football. I pulled my hamstring, and he thought he had pulled his, but it was far worse. Luckily, we got him to hospital, because he had a heart attack just outside it. He lived, and he is perfectly fine now. However, that made me think, and it is part of the motive behind the campaign. Where are the defibrillators and trained people in all these community sports facilities? We give these facilities money. There is the Football Foundation, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) knows well. I think it spends £30 million a year. It should be built into the small print that people should get defibrillators when they get the money for their fancy new facilities. It does not matter whether it is public money, football money or lottery money. The Minister could be raising this issue with these bodies. The Government are also rightly putting money into school sports. We could use the leverage provided by money going into sport to say that defibrillators should be part of the deal. If we do that, we will get them without the Government having to put in lots of money; indeed, if they follow my suggestions, they will not have to put in any money.
I have two other suggestions that are also cost-free. On the planning system, people are always asking for planning permission. We have heard how the system can work against what we are trying to do, but, used sensibly, it can work for us. If someone wants to get planning permission to set up a new shop, a new factory or a new community centre, having a defibrillator should be built into the planning conditions; that is really simply, and it does not cost the state anything. Yes, it will take some time to make that happen, but we can establish the principle in council policy, and that is what we want to achieve with our campaign in Bassetlaw. People will retrofit. They will jump the gun.
Like me, the Minister is a good friend of the unions, and it would be great if the shop steward and the health and safety rep negotiated to ensure that every workplace with such a representative—it will tend to be the bigger workplaces—has a defibrillator. Indeed, it might be more than one if we are talking about some of the big workplaces in my area, which employ 1,000 to 2,000 people. There might be plenty of trained people throughout the work force who know what to do. That is an easy win; it is good publicity. Those suggestions are all cost-free for the Government.
[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
I have a final suggestion. The Minister will like this, because it suits her area, just as it suits mine. I have about 80 parish councils in my area, and they are elected—well, allegedly, because there is never an election in most of them. However, through the democratic process, they are anointed as the village representatives. I shall contact them and go to those who are reticent. Every parish councillor should be trained up. Every parish, every village and every estate should know where the defibrillators are and publicise them so that everybody else knows.
If we get our act together, we can do something significant, without it costing the Government money. It is pure coincidence that Bassetlaw’s campaign is happening now. We waited until we had won our ambulance campaign. I did not want people going round saying, “You’re only doing this because you lost your ambulance stations.” No, the proposals are additional to the professional staff at the ambulance stations and all their brilliance. Now that my area has won its ambulance station campaign, we can deal with our defibrillator campaign properly and efficiently. We will name and shame.
I invite the Minister to come up to be photographed with a business or a parish council, or with councillors and county councillors who have donated a bit of money to assist the process. She can be photographed with me and them; it will be a great photo. However, I hope she will take these proposals forward, which are cost-neutral to the Government, and use leverage to get them moving.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) on securing this important debate. I also congratulate the OK Foundation, as well as all the other small charities and groups of families and friends of people who have been saved or, sadly, lost their lives, on all the work they do in campaigning and fundraising for defibrillators and for life-saving skills to be taught in schools. I also congratulate charities such as the British Heart Foundation, the Arrhythmia Alliance, the Red Cross and St John Ambulance service for campaigning on the issue.
Each year 150,000 people die in incidents where their lives could be saved if only someone knew what to do, and 30,000 people have a cardiac arrest outside hospital. Many of those people could be saved if bystanders knew what to do, if someone started CPR immediately and if there was a defibrillator available. I want to talk about the chain of survival and the importance of someone starting CPR.
With every minute that passes in a cardiac arrest the chance of survival falls by 10%. CPR increases the chance of survival and prolongs the time a person remains in a shockable condition. If a defibrillator is used to administer a shock the survival rate increases to 50%. On “Casualty” it looks as if CPR makes people suddenly awaken and sit up. Of course, it does not. CPR simply keeps blood and oxygen pumping around the body, which means that the heart can still be shocked back into a rhythm. All the time someone is not breathing, and their heart is not pumping, part of their body and brain is dying. CPR keeps people alive and keeps them going until they can be shocked and can get to hospital.
Teaching emergency life skills in schools and the community is
“a no brainer, it’s just common sense”.
Those are not my words, but the words of Dr Andy Lockey of the Resuscitation Council. He and another 124,665 people have called on the Government to put emergency life support skills in the curriculum for all schools. With just two hours a year we could make every school leaver a life-saver. Those two hours a year could save some of the 150,000 people a year who die in situations where their lives could be saved.
The country looked on in horror just over a year ago, when Fabrice Muamba was playing for Bolton Wanderers against Tottenham and suffered a cardiac arrest. Fabrice was lucky, because he had his cardiac arrest in a public place where there were trained first aiders; because the paramedics were knowledgeable enough to give him immediate CPR on the pitch, so that his brain was saved; and because the medics did not give up, but worked on him for 78 minutes until his heart restarted. Just because he was with people who knew what to do, he survived. Fabrice is campaigning for emergency life support skills to be taught in schools, and for defibrillators to be available in public places. He joined those of us who took the British Heart Foundation’s petition, which was signed by the 124,665 people, to Downing street.
My sister’s friend Malcolm McCormick was also lucky. In April last year he went to school to pick up his grandchildren, and keeled over—effectively dead, not breathing, with his heart not beating. Malcolm was lucky because one of the people waiting to collect their children was a retained firefighter, who gave him CPR; because once a month another firefighter volunteers in the school tuck shop, and it was his Friday to work, so he came out and took control of the situation; and because a defibrillator was available, and he was rushed to a specialist hospital. Malcolm left hospital three days later with very sore ribs; but he was alive, with his brain intact. Four months later he was fit enough to be a games maker at the Paralympics.
Earlier I failed to mention the role of retained firefighters. An initiative by Humberside fire and rescue service is starting this month; retained firefighters in some east Yorkshire communities will respond to the issues that the hon. Lady is outlining. Does she agree that we need a broader debate about what the emergency services do? Perhaps there is a role for members of the fire service. There are some in the fire service who will not allow vehicles with defibrillators fitted to be dispatched or used in relevant situations, although they are standing there while there are no ambulances nearby. We must address that.
I agree that we need to maximise the use of knowledge and equipment in the community. I will talk later about the consortium in Bolton, in which the agencies are working together on getting defibrillators in place, and teaching people ELS.
There are many inspiring stories of people who have saved lives, many of whom are young people. I have talked about them several times in Parliament, but I want now to mention a young woman I met a couple of weeks ago. I was honoured to meet 15-year-old Samantha Hobbs with her parents when she came for a meeting with an Education Minister, which, sadly was cancelled, but can hopefully be rescheduled. One morning last year, Samantha woke to hear her father on the telephone to the emergency services, telling them that he thought her mum was already dead. Samantha did not hesitate. Even though her mum felt cold to the touch, she started CPR. Of course, CPR is very tiring and after a few minutes she was exhausted, so she showed her father what to do and coached him to take over, although he had never had any training. Thanks to Samantha her mum survived and is alive today; she came to Parliament with her daughter. She is alive because Samantha learned life-saving skills at her swimming club. They are campaigning for all children to be taught how to save a life.
I have been working hard to get ELS included in the national curriculum. I even introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to ask the Government to do it, but they are stubbornly resisting that common-sense move; so I am trying to ensure that every young person leaving school in my constituency and throughout Bolton leaves school a life-saver. The work is being done with the North West ambulance service, Bolton Wanderers community trust, Greater Manchester fire and rescue service, Bolton council, the British Heart Foundation and the Arrhythmia Alliance. We are enabling all schools to teach ELS, providing training in the community and campaigning for defibrillators in public places. The campaign has been wonderfully supported by The Bolton News, which has been running a campaign alongside it. We are making progress, but it would be so much better if the Government would take action.
Why cannot defibrillators be made compulsory, like fire extinguishers? Far too many companies and organisations are worried about the consequences of having a defibrillator. No one has ever successfully been sued for attempting to save someone’s life. As so many hon. Members have said, a defibrillator cannot be used on a person unless they are in a shockable condition. It tells the user what to do: where to put the pads and whether a shock can be administered. Companies, businesses and community groups should be far more worried about how they would feel about someone dying, when if they had only invested in a defibrillator and someone had known what to do, they could have saved them.
Will the Minister talk to her colleagues in the Department for Education about making the teaching of ELS compulsory? Will she ensure that health authorities provide teaching of those skills to the public? Will she work with colleagues to legislate for defibrillators in public places? The Government could save 150,000 lives a year. I cannot imagine anything worse than seeing a loved one collapse, and finding out afterwards that I could have saved them if I had known what to do. I have, I hope, made sure that that will not happen to me; I have become a Heartstart tutor. However, we need to give all people the skills, confidence and tools to save lives. As a firefighter in my area said, “When someone’s heart stops, they are dead. You can’t make them any deader, but you could save their life.”
We have heard some outstanding speeches this afternoon, and a good deal of consensus, which I am sure will be encouraging for the thousands, indeed millions, of people throughout the country who are campaigning on the issue that we are discussing. We must not forget that we are here for this debate because 110,000 people have signed a petition, in the belief that lives can be saved if Parliament will give the issue more attention and make changes. The debate would not be happening without the outstanding campaigning efforts of the OK Foundation and other heart organisations. I pay tribute in particular to Councillor Jake Morrison, one of the youngest councillors in the country and a shining example of the difference that councillors can make when they dedicate themselves to a campaign.
If it does nothing else, today’s debate will have achieved something, because the official record will contain a permanent memorial to Oliver King, and to the other young people mentioned in the debate, whose lives have tragically been lost. I want the debate to achieve far more than that, however, which is why I am leading for the Opposition today. I want today to be the start of a parliamentary journey in which the issues we are debating here will soon move to the Floor of the House and then, finally, into legislation supported, I hope, by a cross-party campaign. The debate is changing in the country. Every Member of this House will have seen campaigns in their local paper when lives have been lost, and those campaigns are calling for something to be done. It is now time for Parliament to show more leadership on the issue, which we have brought up the parliamentary agenda, and to make changes that will save lives.
We have heard from many hon. Members today, and the attendance of so many Members, not all of whom have spoken, shows the level of interest within Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) introduced the debate with a customarily outstanding speech, and he set out the issues very clearly. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) spoke from personal experience, and given his commitment, we should all listen to what he has to say. My right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) and my hon. Friends the Members for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper), for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) have all made outstanding speeches.
The reason why people talk with such conviction and passion is that we have all seen the devastating effect of the unexpected loss of a life, particularly of a young person, but not necessarily so because this affects young and old. People have seen the inexplicable grief that a family feel when someone is brought down in their prime, often at the peak of their powers, playing sport.
That was certainly the case with Daniel Young in my constituency. He died in 2005 playing football for Leigh RMI football club. He was an outstanding young footballer, and at the time his mother, Dionne, told me that she bought everything for him to make his young football career a success. He had all the latest gear, but she said, “If somebody had just told me to pay for a screening test, it would have been the best £30 I could ever have spent, but I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know he was at risk.” My journey began there, and I started to look into the issue.
When I held office in the Department of Health, I asked the Department to look at the issue and to consider the case for screening, as proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton. While that work has been taking place, we have sadly seen further tragedies. Of course, we have spoken today about the loss of Oliver in Liverpool. He was another outstanding young sportsman whose talent was taken away from us. Oliver’s dad, Mark, was in a similar position to my constituent: he was not warned about the potential risks and, obviously, I am sure he now thinks about that all the time.
Close to my constituency, we have also recently lost a very young boy. Ciaran Geddes was seven years old, and he died in April 2012 playing football on his own. He was a member of the Winwick junior football club, who play in the same Warrington junior league in which my son used to play. That brings it very close to home, and it was such a young life. Ciaran’s mum, Marika, is now campaigning through the Ciaran’s Cause charity, which has given 27 defibrillators to schools across Warrington, with 10 more to be given soon. Marika says that, with every defibrillator the charity gives, she feels that Ciaran lives on. Three of the defibrillators donated to schools by the Oliver King Foundation have already been used, which brings home just how important it is to support those campaigns.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton West and for Liverpool, Walton have said, we all saw the case of Fabrice Muamba—what an inspiring story that is —which shows just what can be achieved, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley said, he was saved only because he fell at a premier league football ground. Obviously, he did almost die, but he survived because he was at the ground and because back-up was on hand. The poor kids who fall at grass-roots football locations are not so lucky, but simple support could be in place that might save many more lives.
I tried to be here for the start of the debate to hear the speeches that have been made on this most important subject.
There have been a number of high-profile deaths of young sportspeople on playing fields in Northern Ireland, where we have a very high rate of death by cardiac arrest anyway. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that there have been positive outcomes from those tragedies—we have heard of examples from across England—and in Northern Ireland a new community resuscitation strategy has been launched that aims to train people in emergency life support and to provide more defibrillators. So, positives are coming out of those tragedies, and we must all redouble our efforts, as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) said, to press people to really deliver.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely spot on, because we see incredible activity across all four nations of the United Kingdom in the wake of those tragedies. Communities are pulling together, raising funds and donating defibrillators to schools and sports clubs, which brings me to my main point: leadership is now needed at national level to co-ordinate that activity and to bring clarity to the whole situation so that the public know where to find a defibrillator and how to use one. I hope I can persuade the Government to work with Opposition Front Benchers on that. There is no politics involved here; this is about saving lives where we can and doing things to make human progress in this country. Other countries are more focused than we have been, and because of that they are saving more lives.
My feeling is that provision is too random at the moment—it is happening in some places and not in others—and we need clarity on policy at a national level so that we can piggyback on all those local campaigns to make progress. I do not think there is a funding issue, because communities will find the money to put these things in the right places, but we must know where they need to go.
It is crucial to understand that, with the best will in the world, the ambulance service is often unable to make a difference for the people who sadly fall in a busy shopping centre, railway station or sports ground. Why? Because they are unable to get there within the Government target time of eight minutes, which is too late. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West said, it is about that chain of survival; it is about equipping people with the knowledge and the kit at local level to start making a difference so that, when the professionals arrive, there is somebody there to save. That is what we have to do.
If we look at the statistics, 12 young people, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton said, die from sudden cardiac arrest in the UK every week. We underplay that problem. Until recently, the Department of Health NHS Choices website stated that the figure was 12 young people a year. The figure was corrected after it was pointed out to the Department, but it is important that the problem is not underestimated.
The clinching fact for why we should do more is that across the world, survival rates are very variable. According to the British Heart Foundation, in this country between 2% and 12% of people who suffer a sudden cardiac arrest survive, which is way too low. Elsewhere, in Seattle, as has been said, 50% of people survive, and in Japan, a public access campaign for AEDs has resulted in an immediate increase in rates of survival with minimum neurological impairment for out-of-hospital cardiac arrests.
The evidence is absolutely clear, so what about policy? What did we do while we were in Government? We must be honest. I am not here to say that we did everything right, but we did something. On the back of the focus on heart services, we introduced the national defibrillator programme in the middle of the last decade. It made a modest amount of funds available to purchase defibrillators to give to local organisations. However, I think that a mistake was made. As the programme was wound down, responsibility was passed to ambulance services.
There are two ways of looking at that. On the one hand, ambulance services have been doing brilliant work ever since as they have taken on the responsibility to improve communities’ capacity to respond. It is fantastic to see representatives of the ambulance service here today. I have certainly been impressed by what I have seen in the north-west. The team there is working with communities across the region to build their capacity to respond. The ambulance service has done good work, but national focus on the issue was lost when responsibility was passed down to the ambulance services, and we must acknowledge that.
That brings me to the crux of what I wanted to say, particularly to the Minister. I think that, between us, we can develop a set of simple policy calls that could make a difference and save lives. I will identify three in particular. As hon. Members have said, there is a compelling case for putting emergency life skills on the national curriculum and for making time available, perhaps as part of the personal, social, health and economic education component, to provide training for all young people. No young person should leave school without knowing how to provide CPR and use a defibrillator, because it is not all about defibrillators or CPR—the two together are important. If we train young people in those skills, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw said, they will go home and talk to others about them.
I have seen what the British Heart Foundation does in schools. The courses that it delivers for young children are outstanding. It would be easy to add such courses to the national curriculum. My children tell me all the things that they are doing in school: the things that they are learning to make in home economics, and the kings and queens that they know about. It is odd that we do not ensure that every young person in this country leaves school at 16 knowing how to save a life. What more basic skill could we give them during their school years?
On the right hon. Gentleman’s attack on kings and queens, as a former history teacher, I attach importance to learning about them. An easy way to do what he suggests without crowding the curriculum too much would be simply to require all PE teachers to have the training, so that they can disseminate it as part of PE, which is required all the way through school. It would be a simple way to teach it without crowding the curriculum.
Let me make it clear that I want children to learn about kings and queens. Yes, it must be possible. We are talking about a one-off course lasting a couple of hours. Surely it is possible to find the time to deliver it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion is one way to do so. My point is that every child should leave with a certificate to say that they have done the course, they know how to use the skills and they are confident in using them.
A number of schools across Bolton West are already teaching emergency life support skills and Heartstart skills through the British Heart Foundation. They are teaching those skills in different ways: some are using half an hour during the registration period; some are teaching it as part of PE; some are teaching it as part of biology. There are multiple places within the curriculum, but the important thing is that they are taught as essential skills. Schools can then work out where best to teach them. They can be taught in half-hour blocks, and two hours a year is nothing.
My hon. Friend is right. Let schools decide, but let us make it a clear legal requirement that they teach those skills. That is how to make a difference: by having a population that is much more educated in emergency first aid and CPR. The difference that it can make is huge. The Department for Education appears to be highly resistant; I do not know why. Surely we could link it to science or biology. Surely there are ways to deliver that teaching that are not irrelevant to the rest of the curriculum. That is our first request. Can we have a clear requirement?
Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton asked, is there not a case for a screening programme, particularly for at-risk young people, such as those who play lots of sport? I know that the UK National Screening Committee has considered the issue, partly because I asked it to, but still no firm recommendations have been made. Will the Minister consider it? It could be delivered for incredibly small amounts of resource in NHS terms; a screening test costs about £30 pounds. It should be available to any parent who wants to make use of it, particularly for young people who play sport every week. My son plays a lot of sport, and I watch him play every week. I have still not had him tested. It crosses my mind all the time that perhaps I should. It should be an easy thing to do; it should not be hard to find. The time has come to provide more screening.
My third and main point is to ask the Minister to give serious consideration to setting a minimum legal requirement for the number of defibrillators in public places. The time has come for that to be required by law. Hon. Members have referred to fire extinguishers and smoke alarms. There comes a point when technology allows something to be made much more widely available in public places and buildings, and I believe that we have reached that point with defibrillators.
I am sure they could. That is my appeal to the Government. I am not being prescriptive and saying that I want this, that or the other. A compelling case has been made for schools because of the loss of young lives. Shopping centres are also a possibility because of the footfall, as are train stations, airports and so on, and workplaces, particularly where people are under the extra pressure of carrying out intense physical activity.
The Government can advise on what the minimum requirement might be, but it is important to have one. Then we would have national clarity on where the public can expect to find a defibrillator. They would know where to locate one, because defibrillators would be required by law. Communities are crying out for it, and we do not have clarity at the moment. Earlier in the debate, someone asked where we would find a defibrillator in Parliament. I would not know. We need to start thinking about clarity and signage. If we did so, we might be able to have a national open register of defibrillators. It is not beyond the wit of man to ensure through an app on a phone that people in a situation where somebody had fallen could find out in real time, via modern technology, where the nearest defibrillator was. An effort could then be made to locate it as soon as possible.
Such things could be done. Lives could be saved. There is no excuse for complacency. We are not talking about huge amounts of money. This House could apply its mind to the issue, bring a little more focus to it and make proportionate and sensible requirements for where defibrillators must be located. Those locations could be publicised, and the public could be educated about how to use them. Why are we not doing it? We should be. I am not making a political point; I am being as critical of our time in government as I am of the current Government. We should be doing it. The case for action is unanswerable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton has done us all a huge service by requesting this debate, which is long overdue. Other countries are way ahead of us in putting a proper, thought-through policy in place at every level: education, screening, prevention, and response through public access to defibrillators. My three requests can be given fair consideration by the Minister; if she were to act, we would secure something momentous for the people who have campaigned so vigorously on the issue over recent years. They know and people outside know that it is right to make a change, and some communities are just getting on and doing so; they are not even waiting for Parliament to do something, and that alone should be enough to make us think and act. If we made a commitment now, I am certain that in a matter of years we would see those statistics improve and more lives being saved which, at the end of the day, is the best memorial we can give to Oliver King, Ciaron Geddes, Daniel Young and all the young people who have tragically lost their lives.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter.
I thank everyone who has spoken in this excellent debate. A debate normally consists of one side of an argument versus the other side, but today we have had an outbreak of agreement and there has been no one side or the other. The debate is also momentous because I can say with my hand on my heart that I found myself in agreement with not only my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) but, most concerning, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), with whom I share history, because I was born and brought up in his constituency. I would be absolutely delighted to take up the hon. Gentleman’s invitation to visit, because it means a great deal to me. To be serious, however, because I was being flippant, this has been a good debate. I pay tribute to all those who signed the online petition and particularly to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) who opened the debate so well. He spoke with great passion and feeling and with considerable knowledge. We have had a good debate because of the outbreak of agreement and some well formed speeches, based on real argument, facts and figures, as well as on constituents’ experience.
Where are we? We all agree that defibrillators are good things; many hon. Members have spoken about the role that they can play and how we need considerably more of them. We all agree that we need more people trained in their use and in CPR and all manner of emergency measures for someone in a life-threatening situation. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) on her speech; she explained how training our children could bring us real benefits in the number of people trained, which would mean more lives being saved. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole, who spoke about his experiences as a community first responder and about how volunteers from the community, not only young people at school, could be trained in such skills. He gave some good examples of how effectively such a programme could be rolled out. Other hon. Members talked about the value of screening and, for example, I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) for his comments on the need for screening.
Unfortunately, I am going to be somewhat of a fly in this otherwise rather pleasant ointment, because I do not agree with everything said about legislation. My view is that we do not need legislation. We already have all manner of programmes locally. I am not denying that our system is patchy and that some parts of the country are clearly doing a far better job than others, but it is understandable why the previous Government decided to put defibrillators and training down to the local ambulance trusts: they know their communities best and they are the people to ensure delivery, to the best of their abilities, to meet the needs of their communities.
I usually flinch from legislation, because it can take a long time to go through this place and because when we start to be prescriptive, we can run into all sorts of dangers. We have accepted that different communities have different needs, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw for his compelling case for defibrillator training to be rolled out through our communities, depending on the nature of the community. For example, his constituency has a large number of parish councils—mine does not have as many, but it matters not—and he discussed putting pressure on and working and campaigning with the parish councils to start installing defibrillators. The parish councils can look at their own communities and at what would suit the needs of those communities. He then made a good point about work forces and the possibility of defibrillators in every place with more than a certain number of employees, and that is where the debate begins, because the difficulty with legislation lies in whether we look at a workplace with 50, 100 or 1,000 employees. The hon. Gentleman described how he could work with the trade unions in his patch and in effect, as a result, roll out a campaign of asking the work forces whether they think something is a good idea in a particular workplace or not in another. If we begin to prescribe, however, we will not deliver the sort of service that we want.
I realise the situation is slightly unusual: the Minister is defending the policy of the previous Government and I am asking her to reconsider and to go further. She said that ambulance services are best placed because they understand their communities. I partly agree, but the problem is that ambulance services do not have the power to insist on defibrillators going where they are most needed. The ambulance services are not the planning authority or the owners of the big buildings; they can only use persuasion and cannot ensure that defibrillators go where they really need to go, where lives can be saved. That is why legislation is necessary. If she is worried about overly burdensome legislation, it could start with a simple requirement to have a defibrillator publicly available in towns of, for example, 30,000 or more; it could be a modest requirement to get the ball rolling, as other countries have done.
I am grateful for the intervention, but it rather makes my point. Once we stipulate, for the sake of argument towns of 30,000, we can imagine that in the towns without that level of population people will think, “Well, we’re all right, so we won’t do much work on it.” That is the problem with a more prescriptive approach.
While we are discussing ambulance services, and referring again to the speech of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, I wish to set the record straight on the East Midlands ambulance service. EMAS has been struggling for some time, with a number of difficulties that the hon. Gentleman and I are familiar with. As mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier), my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) has been involved in a campaign following the death of Joe Humphries, who did not live in her constituency but went to school there. As a result of her work, for which I am grateful, Leicestershire has 109 static defibrillators in public areas, 14 of which were installed in partnership with the Leicestershire police, and there are 24 Heartstart schools in the county.
The hon. Member for Bolton West also talked about the Heartstart scheme and its success in her area, although I can see that that may not be the case universally throughout the country. What is happening because of the debate, however, is that not only are we holding it and everything is being recorded in Hansard, but I will certainly go away and not hesitate to have that conversation with the relevant Minister in the Department for Education. An extremely forceful message has come out of this debate about the need for such training to be included in the national curriculum. I could not possibly give my own views on that, but the argument has been advanced extremely strongly and it has much merit and power.
I was not aware that the Minister is an anti-legislationist parliamentarian.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), off the top of his head, suggested a population of 30,000 as a starting point. It does not matter whether the threshold is 30,000, 25,000 or 50,000; basically, there has to be a starting point. Even if the threshold is 30,000, once automatic external defibrillators are in place, they are there for life, and we can then start to concentrate on places with fewer than 30,000 people. We could do that for large factories or organisations before we go to the small ones. There is no magic wand and provision will not happen overnight, but we need to start somewhere.
In some respects I share the Minister’s scepticism that legislation is always the answer; it can, on occasions, be a blunt instrument. The problem, however, is that whenever we look at what the alternative is, it is not straightforward. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) talked about parish councils, but not everywhere is covered by parish councils.
The problem with looking to the ambulance services is that they do not have the money to provide defibrillators to each of their communities. I would also question whether they necessarily know their communities all that intimately, being organisers, as they are, on large, regional scales.
We have discussed areas of responsibility outside those of the Minister’s Department, but will she undertake to look at the situation of nursing homes, particularly in Texas? Will her officials contact the health department in Texas to see what impact there has been as a result of requiring defibrillators in nursing homes? Then we can come to an evidence-based decision on the matter.
My hon. Friend’s point is, again, good and well made. I am glad that we worked out which part of the United States it was that something good could be said about in this respect. I am more than happy to take his point away, as one of the many ideas that hon. Members have suggested in this debate, and see whether we can consider in any way, be it making provision mandatory or issuing guidance to nursing homes and other institutions—[Interruption.] I think my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole said that he was going to send it to me. I will be interested in anything that ever comes across my desk. I will give it due consideration and pass it on, if necessary, to those who have responsibility for nursing homes in the Department of Health. As I said, it is a good idea.
One could argue that only a limited number of hon. Members have participated in today’s debate. We should stop here for a moment, because all the Members who have spoken have come from the standpoint of having experienced someone—normally a child—dying suddenly from a heart attack. That touches people in a raw way, because it involves a child. Mercifully, out of all the horrors and badness invariably comes something good, which is a point raised by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). Hon. Members have raised many examples of the good that has come out of the terrible and tragic loss of a young life.
Does the Minister agree that we should take some of the luck out of the issue? Fabrice, Malcolm and Mrs Hobbs were lucky, but Oliver was not. We need to take the luck out of the issue, to ensure that people who suffer a sudden cardiac arrest have a good chance of survival. We can do that only if we have some sort of legislation that says, “You must have defibs and you must do training.”
I have given my reasons for why I do not believe legislation, at the present time, is the answer. I agree with the hon. Lady that a lot of the matter depends on luck. Certain areas seem to offer a better service than others because of some unfortunate tragedy that has befallen them. With the Oliver King Foundation and many other charities that we have heard about today, people have come together and raised money to install defibrillators or to ensure that school children receive the right sort of training.
We heard examples of the work of mayors. The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) talked about the work of the mayor in his constituency, and the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) spoke about the work that had been done in her constituency by the mayor. She also mentioned the death of a young man and the work that his family has done as a result to ensure that other youngsters did not suffer a similar fate, and that the things that should be in place were there.
Again on legislation, I agree with the Minister’s point that we want a mixed approach to the matter, but if we expect communities to take charge of the matter themselves, we must understand that some communities do not have the capacity to do so. They might not be able to raise money quite as easily as more middle-class and better-off areas can. Some communities might be slightly better organised because they have a parish council speaking for them. We must bear in mind that not every community will have the resources or the individuals who feel confident enough to raise money for such provision.
My hon. Friend’s point is another well made point.
I will return to where this debate started—the subject of sudden adult death syndrome. Starting with screening, often when there has been a case of a sudden cardiac arrest, many people say, “Screening will have a big impact in the future.” As the right hon. Member for Leigh will know, the UK National Screening Committee, an independent expert body that advises Ministers about all aspects of screening, assesses the evidence for screening against a set of internationally recognised criteria. No doubt that is why the right hon. Gentleman listened to and followed its advice, which is that, while screening has a potential to save lives, it is not a foolproof process. The footballer Fabrice Muamba suffered cardiac arrest, and many of us will remember what happened to him at the game. We have heard many people describe the amazing medical assistance that he was given—I cannot remember for how long he was unconscious, but it was an incredibly long time—and that young man has made a remarkable recovery. However, I am told that he had received several screening tests throughout his career.
In 2008, the UK NSC reviewed the evidence for screening for the most common cause of sudden death in those under the age of 30, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, including looking at athletes and young people who participated in sport. A number of the cases that we have heard today involved, invariably, young men or boys who died while playing sport, notably football. The UK NSC concluded that the evidence did not support the introduction of screening. Sudden cardiac death is a complex condition and is difficult to detect through screening; there is no single test that can detect all the conditions, nor is it possible to say which abnormalities will lead to sudden cardiac death. However, in line with its three-yearly review policy, the UK NSC is again reviewing the evidence. This time the review will go further than only looking at the evidence for screening for HCM and will cover screening for the major causes of sudden cardiac death in young people between the ages of 12 and 39. The review will take into account the most up-to-date international evidence, including evidence from Italy, where screening is currently offered to athletes between the ages of 12 and 35.
There will be an opportunity to participate in the review process later this year, when a copy of the latest review will be open for public consultation on the UK NSC’s website. No doubt, a number of the organisations and charities that we have heard about today will take part in that consultation. I am told that although screening is not routinely available in England, work to prevent premature death from cardiovascular disease is a priority, as it should be.
On 5 March, the cardiovascular disease outcomes strategy—not exactly words that trip off the tongue—was published. It sets out a range of actions to reduce premature mortality for those with, or at risk of, cardiovascular disease. The NHS Commissioning Board will work with the Resuscitation Council, the British Heart Foundation and others to promote the site mapping and registration of defibrillators, and to look at ways of increasing the numbers trained in using them. I pay tribute to the foundation, which a number of hon. Members have mentioned, and rightly so, as we are all grateful for its work in, for example, placing defibrillators in Liverpool primary schools. That is, no doubt, because of the outstanding work of the Oliver King Foundation.
Ambulance trusts have had responsibility for the provision of defibrillators since 2005, and in my view they are best placed to know what is needed in their local area. However, it is important to recognise that defibrillators help only in a minority of cases. The majority of out-of-hospital heart attacks—up to 80%—happen in the home. Bystander CPR doubles survival rates, but it is only attempted in 20% to 30% of cases. It is clear that although defibrillators play an important part, we have to bear in mind, as I said, that 80% of heart attacks, if they do not happen in hospital, happen at home, and I absolutely concede that there is a real need for an increase in the amount of people trained in CPR, because we know that that also plays a hugely important part in ensuring that people who have a heart attack survive it.
When there is a sudden cardiac death, we need to take action to ensure that potentially affected family members are identified and offered counselling and testing to see if they are also at risk. We know that that does not always happen. There are continuing discussions with the chief coroner for England to determine how coroners’ services might help in the identification of potentially affected family members, so that more lives can be saved. The national clinical director for heart disease, Professor Gray, will work with all relevant stakeholders to develop and spread good practice around sudden cardiac death.
In conclusion, I will wait to see the latest recommendation from the UK NSC, following its latest review of evidence. The national clinical director for heart disease will continue to promote good practice and awareness around sudden cardiac death. However, as I have said before—forgive me for repeating myself—I will ensure that I speak to the relevant Minister at the Department for Education about all the arguments that have been advanced today for training in CPR and life-saving techniques to be part of the national curriculum. It is my understanding that that particular part of it is under review, and I will impress on him or her how strongly Members have spoken today.
Again, I thank everybody, especially those who signed the petition, for bringing the debate into this place and, effectively, for shining a spotlight on the matter. I hope that hon. Members will take the issue to their local press, as I am sure they will, and that the national press might also look at it. It is absolutely right that the more we ventilate it, the better the situation will be.
Thank you, Mr Streeter. First, I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for taking part in the debate on behalf of the campaigners, and obviously I thank the campaigners, who have made a long journey in certain cases to come to Parliament today to hear what we have been saying and what the Minister has been saying. Can I just pick the Minister up on one point? It is very important to some people here; we have a doctor and other medical staff here. She continually made reference to heart attacks; I think that what she meant was cardiac arrests, which are a very different thing.
I just wanted to put that on the record.
Many excellent points have been raised in the debate. What we have seen demonstrated during the past three hours is the clear and absolute desire for Parliament to act. I understand that the Minister has a difficult job. There are obstacles and challenges to overcome in relation to cardiac arrest and SADS, including raising awareness and overcoming people’s initial fear of helping someone who has sustained a cardiac arrest. The hope is that this debate will have teased out some of those things.
We have also heard about a number of issues that are not directly relevant to the Minister’s remit, so she may well have to have conversations not just with the relevant Education Minister, but with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and certainly with the Department for Communities and Local Government in relation to the planning issues. However, that does not mean that she or the Government can abrogate their responsibilities. As has been highlighted, some of these things are cost-neutral; they just need action. We are not asking for money or, at worst, they cost very little. They simply require political will.
A few weeks ago, after the debate was announced, I received numerous phone calls and e-mails from organisations and charities that have been campaigning for years on this issue, so it is only right that they receive recognition for their efforts. Therefore, in praising again the efforts of the OK Foundation, I would also like to pay tribute to SADS UK, the British Heart Foundation, Cardiac Risk in the Young, the London Ambulance Service, Hearts and Goals, the Arrhythmia Alliance, the North West Ambulance Service, AED Locator, the Community HeartBeat Trust, Kays Medical and Liverpool football club and the great Steven Gerrard, the England captain, who has also recently come on board and lent his support—my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) is shaking his head.
There is growing momentum for action, and campaigners will not give up on this issue until progress is made. Including first aid training in the school curriculum would take up 0.2% of the timetable, but have an incalculable value.
Can I add my own tribute to the organisations—most of them—that my hon. Friend has just listed? Obviously, we do not doubt the Minister’s good will, but I think that we will have been disappointed by the response, particularly on the issue of legislation. With that in mind, may I encourage my hon. Friend to return to the Backbench Business Committee and make a request to bring this issue to the Floor of House? It seems to me that Parliament might take a different view from the Government on the need for legislation. I think that we should try to test the mind of Parliament on this issue. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be put off and will pursue his campaign in that direction.
I am happy to confirm to my right hon. Friend that I think that, following the discussion that I will have immediately after this debate, the next step will be for us to push the Backbench Business Committee for a further debate in the main Chamber so that we push this issue to a vote, because I genuinely believe that defibs will save thousands of lives every year. No one in their right mind doubts that, so it is for the Government to show their resolve and to back the campaigners. A national lead is needed on this issue. We have not been given that today, so we will push in the future for that lead.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the e-petition relating to preventable cardiac deaths arising from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.