Skip to main content

Automated External Defibrillators (Public Access)

Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 2 December 2020

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 installation of automated external defibrillators in public buildings, sporting facilities, schools, higher education and other education and skills facilities, and facilities that provide care to vulnerable people; and to make associated provision about training and signage.

This is the third attempt to bring in a Bill of this nature, following two previous efforts by the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield). May I put on the record my thanks to her for her efforts and commitment? I was happy to co-sponsor her Bill in 2018, which fell due to Parliament being dissolved. I stand today once more to inform the House that the push for mandatory installation of these life-saving devices in our public buildings must be welcomed.

As the Member for Strangford in Northern Ireland, I felt that it was right that I took this opportunity to present this Bill because the defibrillator, of course, was invented by Professor Frank Pantridge, who was born in Hillsborough in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson). Professor Pantridge pioneered the automated external defibrillator, or the portable defibrillator, at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, in collaboration with the British Heart Foundation.

Behind this Bill lie stories of tragedy and triumph. Those stories must be shared, because they have happened across the whole community. In December 2019, I met Mark King, whose son Oliver died in March 2011 from a cardiac arrest when taking part in a swimming race. Oliver was 12 years old. He was an outstanding young athlete and a much-loved little boy, who unfortunately had a hidden heart condition. Had a defibrillator been quickly available, his chances of survival would have been so much greater, and it is possible that he would have been here to celebrate his 21st birthday back in January this year.

It is because a defibrillator was not available, because it is still not mandatory for any building to have one, that Oliver’s death inspired his daddy, Mark King, to set up the Oliver King Foundation, which has worked since 2012 to save as many lives as possible by raising awareness of the importance of public access defibrillators. To date, the foundation has placed 4,500 AEDs in schools and organisations across the United Kingdom and trained 70,000 staff in AED awareness, and more than 47 lives have been saved by the defibrillators that the foundation has placed. That has been achieved through effort born from heartbreak. I say to the Government that it is time we removed that burden from the foundation’s shoulders and required mandatory installation of AEDs as Oliver King’s legacy.

Members may not be aware that 270 children die across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland each year from hidden heart conditions. Many have died in school settings and sports fields. Those places are where defibrillators need to be, and they need to be there not simply because someone has fundraised in their community, but because they are required to be there. That is the reason for this Bill.

When a defibrillator is available, it can mean the difference between life and death. A member of my office staff is a volunteer with St John Ambulance and assisted at an incident where a young boy had collapsed outside a school. He had no heartbeat. The school had a defibrillator on site, and she assisted a trained staff member as this child, lying on the cold ground in his school uniform, was revived on the third cycle by a combination of a defibrillator and CPR, so that when paramedics arrived they were met with a living child instead of a scene of unspeakable heartbreak. I am happy to say that that child recovered and eventually returned to school, but we can imagine how it must have been for his daddy, who was there, trying to reassure his wife over the phone. The heart must be restarted within three minutes, and how different it could have been if no defibrillator had been available.

I remember well when a man collapsed in my constituency while watching a game of football in the grounds of Portavogie football club. He had gone into cardiac arrest when a defibrillator was brought from the club house, just a few metres away, and applied to him. On the fourth cycle he began to breathe. That man is alive today because a defibrillator was at his side in seconds, and that is so important. That small machine can restore life, and its benefit is that anyone can use one, because once they have opened it, audio instructions tell them exactly what to do. The Bill’s purpose is to increase rates of survival from cardiac arrest by making public access to a defibrillator as quick as possible. Seconds count when the heart stops beating.

There are many reasons why a heart suddenly stops working, and it could happen to anyone, even the very young. Sudden cardiac death kills 12 people aged 35 and under each week across Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. Many of the young people who die are involved in physical activities when it happens. Although such incidents are indiscriminate, the availability of defibrillators should not be. Of the 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests across Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom each year, the overall survival rate is a shocking one in 10. It is estimated that public access to defibrillators is used in fewer than 5% of those incidents.

We should all agree that those are sad statistics, but one even sadder statistic also need mentioning. The British Heart Foundation has reported—I say this gently—that women are less likely to be given CPR or defibrillation by bystanders than men, if they suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in a public place. Some 68% of women will receive assistance compared with 77% of men, which means that women are less likely to survive, even if a defibrillator is readily available. Bystanders are afraid that they might be inappropriately touching a lady, and one aim of the Bill is to educate and remind us all that education and awareness across our communities is urgently needed. Nobody should die for lack of CPR or defibrillation because people are afraid to touch them.

The timing of this Bill coincides with the intention to include first aid and CPR in the national school curriculum in England this year, 2020. Norway has been teaching CPR in schools for many years, and bystander CPR has caused its survival rates to be as high as 25%, compared with less than 10% in the United Kingdom. St John Ambulance runs Badgers and Cadets schemes for those aged seven to 19. Those schemes teach CPR and the use of defibrillators, so that children and young people learn how to save lives. It makes perfect sense for that training also to take place in our schools. We in the devolved nations should get involved with that idea, and call on our education Ministers seriously to consider making those life-saving skills part of our children’s everyday learning in school.

This Bill needs to be robust and to include a requirement on councils to comply. If we can afford to build new buildings and facilities, we can afford a few extra hundred pounds on installing automated external defibrillators. That should be guided by having an AED per building on a facility of 7,500 square metres of floor space, and a register must be established to record the location of an AED, with a programme of maintenance and annual testing. I understand that there are now more AEDs installed in public places today than there were when young Oliver King lost his life. That is to be acknowledged and welcomed, but we must go a lot further. We cannot leave the availability of such a life-saving device to the result of a random decision or a mayoral recommendation.

AEDs are almost always obtained through the efforts of community fundraising. Indeed, one was recently installed near my office in Newtownards by the staff of Wardens, who raised the money themselves. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Paul Howell), who is unable to be here today, told me about the incredible commitment by one of his constituents, Mr David Sutton-Lloyd, who made it his mission to see publicly accessible AEDs installed across the length and breadth of Newton Aycliffe. Those efforts are to be praised, but why must it remain incumbent on shop staff and dedicated individuals such as Mr Sutton-Lloyd to purchase AEDs for the safety of others? They do not have to purchase fire extinguishers or smoke alarms that public buildings are required by law to have in place. Why should we, as legislators in this House, continue to leave the availability of defibrillators as arbitrary when we have the figures for how many people die from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each week and when, tragically, many of them are children?

It is easy to listen to the statistics being read out and, sometimes, we can become cold to them, but then be shocked and moved by them, but nothing drives home the message more effectively than seeing with one’s own eyes the miraculous revival of a human life by a defibrillator. I would ask how many hon. Members have witnessed a person collapse suddenly and stop breathing. Some have, and many of us probably have not, but that does not matter.

Most of us will remember the footage of former Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba, who collapsed from cardiac arrest on the pitch, during a live broadcast of the match. His heart stopped beating for 78 minutes, but his chances of survival were increased from the start because CPR and a defibrillator were applied during those crucial first few minutes. Such a scene is deeply distressing to witness, but nothing is more distressing than the needless loss of life.

I call on Members to think about that wee boy Oliver King. He was known as “Mr Special” by his parents and all who knew him. He should have turned 21 this year. Also think about my constituent who will celebrate another Christmas this month with his loved ones. The difference in those stories is one thing: a defibrillator—the absence of one and the availability of one.

We can no longer leave it to the public to hold raffles or coffee mornings. We must consider it our duty as legislators to require AEDs to be present in public buildings, sporting facilities, places of education and wherever someone, be they young or elderly, might fall down and never get up again. The Bill will ensure that if they do, they will have every chance of getting up again. I urge Members to support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.


That Jim Shannon, John Howell, Paul Girvan, David Linden, Carla Lockhart, Maria Eagle, Caroline Nokes, Chris Green, Mrs Pauline Latham, Alison Thewliss, Mr Peter Bone and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson present the Bill.

Jim Shannon accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 February 2021, and to be printed (Bill 222).

I must now announce the result of today’s deferred Division on the draft Veterinary Medicines and Residues (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. The Ayes were 362 and the Noes were 202, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]