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Defibrillators (Availability)

Volume 617: debated on Tuesday 15 November 2016

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the provision of defibrillators in education establishments, and in leisure, sports and certain other public facilities; to make provision for training persons to operate defibrillators; to make provision for funding the acquisition, installation, use and maintenance of defibrillators; and for connected purposes.

The purpose of the Bill is to increase the rates of survival from non-hospital cardiac arrests across the UK. Currently, our record in this country for survival from cardiac arrest is dismal. According to the British Heart Foundation, almost 30,000 cardiac arrests a year occur outside hospitals, and less than 10% of the people who suffer those cardiac arrests survive. In fact, in parts of England survival rates are close to 2%. Behind those statistics are people, families and communities.

Cardiac arrests can happen for many reasons, from trauma right through to congenital heart defects. Even more frightening than the 10% survival figure is the fact that 12 young people each week will die from arrhythmic death syndrome, a hidden condition that can strike at any time—young people such as Oliver King, who died from a cardiac arrest aged 12. A young lad from Liverpool, he was popular and very sporty, and died after winning a swimming competition. When he died, no defibrillator was available. Paramedics took just 24 minutes to get to the scene. His father, Mark, is here in the Gallery today, along with other members of the Oliver King Foundation, because they are convinced that if a defibrillator had been available at the scene Oliver would be alive now. They have campaigned week after week in this place, with many Members, for defibrillators to be made available throughout the country. Today, we are just short of two months away from what would have been Oliver’s 18th birthday.

Let us be under no illusion about the difference defibrillators could make. A defibrillator can greatly increase survival rates from cardiac arrest, by almost as much as 80%. But for them to be successful, minutes count, and quick access to a defibrillator is crucial. A defibrillator needs a shockable heart rhythm; if too much time elapses, a shockable heart rhythm will turn into a non-shockable one, and the chance of survival decreases rapidly. If a heart is not started within four minutes of cardiac arrest, a person’s chances of living are reduced by almost 80%. Even the speediest paramedic in the country would struggle to get to someone in four minutes. That is why it is crucial that defibrillators are accessible everywhere in this country. We have laws that mandate smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, seatbelts and life jackets to save lives, but not a single law mandating a simple piece of equipment that could restart the lives of 12 young people each week.

The Young Mayor of Seaford in my constituency, Jessica Batchelor—she is also here in the Gallery—at the age of 15 witnessed first hand a close family friend die suddenly from a cardiac arrest when no defibrillator was available. As Young Mayor, she has raised thousands of pounds to put in as many defibrillators across Seaford as possible. She has lobbied me, as her local MP, to do something about this, and has worked with me on the Bill. I pay tremendous tribute to her.

The aim of the Bill is not to undermine the excellent work of existing charities, such as the British Heart Foundation with Heartstart or St John Ambulance, but to support it. I want to achieve two things. The first is to improve access by using key community facilities. We know that for survival after a cardiac arrest, time matters. Making sure that people know where their nearest defibrillator is, therefore, is key. The British Heart Foundation would like a national database, so that we can ensure not only that there is adequate defibrillator coverage but that the defibrillators are maintained and replaced where necessary.

In the Bill, we have suggested schools, sports facilities and public buildings as locations, so that there is somewhere in every town and village in the country where a local defib can be installed. But that is not enough. Defibs need to be accessible 24 hours a day. In rural communities such as my constituency, many villages do not have a school. It is therefore key that somewhere is designated and, more importantly, that people know where that place is.

Currently, there is a postcode lottery—even in schools, despite the Department for Education’s efforts, as it has pursued the option of defibrillators but has not mandated them. In England, we know of 1,389 defibrillators available in schools; in Northern Ireland, we know of one, and in Scotland we do not know of any. That is not to say that they do not exist; but without a register, no one is able to check. Although it is good news that only this month the Department of Health awarded the British Heart Foundation another £1 million to make defibrillators accessible across the country and provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation training, until provision is mandatory, defibrillator access will remain hit and miss.

The Bill’s second aim is to increase the use of defibrillators—it is important not just to have them but to make sure that they are used. That is why the Bill mandates training. I have talked to residents in my local villages. Many have seen their local defibrillator, but say they would be reluctant to use it, because they think that training is needed to do so. Although nothing could be further from the truth—all a person has to do is stick the two pads on someone’s chest and press the button, as the machine will tell them what to do then—without training, people are afraid to use them. The Bill’s aim is not to state that only trained people should use defibrillators but to mandate training for local communities with every installation, so that people feel confident using them.

I wonder how many Members present know how many defibrillators there are on the parliamentary estate. There are 20 in total, in the House of Lords, House of Commons, Norman Shaw North and Portcullis House, with two in Big Ben. I am sure you know, Mr Speaker, where the nearest defibrillator is to the Chamber, in case one of us needed it in an emergency; Members will be reassured to learn that it is in Members Lobby.

I therefore move that the Bill be introduced, so that we can mandate that defibs are installed across the whole of the UK in publicly accessible places, and that training is available so that people know what to do in the event of a cardiac arrest, and are not afraid to use those defibs. It is crucial to support the work of our many charities, such as the Oliver King Foundation and the British Heart Foundation, including the request for a live register to ensure that there is adequate coverage and that that coverage is maintained.

Twelve young people will die of a cardiac arrest this week, and 28,000 people will die this year. Those lives could be saved by the Bill. I urge Members to support it.

Question put and agreed to.


That Maria Caulfield, Andy Burnham, Stephen Twigg, Mims Davies, Anna Soubry, Dr James Davies, Mike Wood, Mr Edward Vaizey, Dr Philippa Whitford, Douglas Chapman, Dr Lisa Cameron and Peter Aldous present the Bill.

Maria Caulfield accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 January 2017, and to be printed (Bill 91).