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Schools: Access to Defibrillators

Volume 778: debated on Monday 30 January 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that all schools and public buildings are equipped with defibrillators.

My Lords, the Government know how important swift access to defibrillators can be in cases of cardiac arrest. That is why we are encouraging schools to purchase a defibrillator as part of their first-aid equipment, and we have negotiated a deal to offer defibrillators to schools at a reduced cost. Since the scheme was launched, more than 1,800 defibrillators have been purchased through this route. The Government also continue to provide funding to make defibrillators more widely available in communities across the country.

I thank the Minister for his reply and for his work during the coalition Government and this Government. The Minister will be aware that today, 82 people will experience a sudden cardiac arrest and only eight of them will survive. He will also be aware of the work of the Oliver King Foundation, which was set up after the tragic death of a 12 year-old boy in a swimming pool in Liverpool, and which has campaigned ceaselessly for this provision. Is the Minister prepared to meet the foundation to discuss further ways in which it can be taken forward?

I am very much aware of the work of this marvellous foundation, which I know works tirelessly to place defibrillators and raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest. When I met Mark King nearly three years ago, we had a good conversation about our deal to purchase defibrillators and I would be delighted to meet him again.

My Lords, should not all children be given training in the use of defibrillators, and should they not have wider knowledge of how to use this machinery and other first aid when they come out of school?

We leave it to schools to decide precisely how much they teach their pupils about first aid. Some very good resources are available from the British Heart Foundation, the Red Cross and others. The defibrillator we provide comes with audio instructions which make it very easy to use, but of course, training for staff and others is important.

Do the Government recognise that it is essential to have emergency action first-aid training in primary and secondary schools, so that children can recognise cardiac arrest in another child, respond appropriately, call for help and know where a defibrillator is? Simply purchasing a defibrillator is inadequate.

As I say, we leave it to schools to deal with the precise details, but they will of course make it absolutely clear where the defibrillator is. I have already referred to the issue of training.

Does my noble friend accept that the use of defibrillators has saved a great many lives—provided, of course, that they are used in appropriate circumstances?

My Lords, given the recent cuts in school funding, how does the Minister expect schools to be able to afford defibrillators, unless of course they have a special grant to purchase one from the department, which they most certainly should?

Under our deal, schools can now purchase the machines for £435, compared to £1,000 to £2,000 if they did so independently.

Is the Minister aware that these machines are now so sophisticated that if any operator is about to use one inappropriately, it has been programmed to tell the operator to “push off”?

I do not know if they quite put it in those terms, but I am aware that they are apparently very easy to use and the instructions are very clear.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Storey, rightly paid tribute to the outstanding work of the Oliver King Foundation, and I acknowledge the work the Minister has done in meeting the foundation and taking the issue forward. Every year, 270 children die after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest at school, and 12 young people a week die from sudden arrhythmic death syndrome. There are laws that mandate smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, seatbelts and lifejackets to save lives, but there is no law mandating a simple piece of equipment that could restart the lives of 12 young people each week. Do the Government intend to give a fair wind to Maria Caulfield MP’s Defibrillators (Availability) Bill, which will have its Second Reading in another place next month, so as to bring to an end the shameful postcode lottery that is access to defibrillators?

My Lords, the Department of Health believes that it is unnecessary to require defibrillators to be placed in all public buildings, and it is our policy that local ambulance trusts already have responsibility for the provision of defibrillators and are best placed to know what is needed in the local area. When I met Mark King and the other representatives of the Oliver King Foundation some years ago, they seemed satisfied with our arrangements, particularly the deal that I referred to, but we are very happy to work with them further and to discuss what more we can do to ensure that more schools install defibrillators and that we raise awareness of this very important issue.

Following the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, how can children in schools be shown the dangers of diabetes or epilepsy and made aware of the symptoms? Is it possible to encourage schools and education authorities to make sure that those who are able to instruct are allowed into classrooms?

In 2014, we introduced a new duty on schools to make arrangements to support pupils with medical conditions with such detailed guidance, which was developed in association with stakeholders, including the Health Conditions in Schools Alliance.

My Lords, this is yet another argument for strengthening personal, social, health and economic education. If children understand their own bodies and are taught well about them, they can respond more appropriately to the issues raised in this question, and more generally, when such health problems arise for them or others.

I agree with the sentiment expressed by the noble Earl. I think I have already said that we are looking at how we can strengthen these provisions further.