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Volume 822: debated on Wednesday 15 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to widen the availability of defibrillators in both public and private settings, including schools.

The Government encourage organisations across England to consider purchasing a defibrillator as part of their first-aid equipment. Many community defibrillators have been provided in public locations, including in shopping centres, through National Lottery funding, community fundraising schemes, workplace funding or by charities. There are now more than 43,000 registered AEDs in England, and from May 2020 the Government have required all contractors refurbishing schools or building new ones through centrally delivered programmes to provide at least one automated external defibrillator, or AED.

My Lords, each year, some 60,000 people in the UK suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. Fewer than one in 10 survive and every minute of delay in receiving defibrillation reduces their survival chances by 10%. I recently attended a drop-in event to introduce the world’s first personal defibrillator, which is around 1/10th of the size, weight and price of current models and actually fits in my jacket pocket. Have the Government considered how development such as this might affect their approach to widening access to defibrillators? Will the Minister agree to meet me and leading resuscitation organisations to discuss ways of increasing access to and awareness of defibrillators in schools, workplaces, sports locations and even homes?

I thank the noble for raising the issue of this particular defibrillator. I am personally not aware of it, but I would be very happy if the noble Lord would send me more information on it—it sounds just up my street when it comes to innovation, as it were. We are working across the UK, with different sectors. In some ways, it is almost like a channel marketing campaign. How do we get defibrillators out to as many locations as possible? There is the Circuit and the National Defibrillator Database, and there will be an app that will allow people to find their nearest defibrillator. We are working with schools, educational institutions, sports grounds, transport, the Health and Safety Executive, the British Heart Foundation, Resuscitation Council UK and other partners.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that there is a rise in the number of defibrillators across the country, but one of the problems is that a lot of people do not realise where they are located, particularly the emergency services and indeed the general public. My noble friend mentioned the national defibrillator network, known as the Circuit, but a lot of people are not aware of this—this is where outlets can register where their defibrillator is and the general public can find out where a defibrillator is when they need them. Is there some way that the department can raise the awareness of the Circuit so that more people are able to use it?

My noble friend raises a very important point, in her usual assertive manner. The British Heart Foundation, in partnership with Resuscitation Council UK, the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives and the NHS, has set up the Circuit, which is now live in 13 to 14 ambulance services across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In January this year, the BHF launched a website that will assist members of the public to locate defibrillators; it is also looking at apps so that people can find out where defibrillators are. We recognise that in some places people themselves are putting in their own defibrillators and we are trying to make sure that they are aware that they should be feeding into the Circuit, so that more people are aware of where they are.

My Lords, if I may slightly broaden the Question, the Minister will be aware of the increasing difficulties caused by a lengthening of ambulance response times. This makes first aid at the point where the patient is located even more imperative. Could the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to increase training in first aid, and also whether introductory classes in first aid are given in schools?

Clearly, one thing is making sure the defibrillators are there and people know how to use them, but also, as the noble Lord rightly says, they should be educated in CPR and resuscitation. All state-funded schools in England are required to teach first aid, including CPR. Those requirements came in in 2020. To support schools further, the department’s teacher training modules cover all the teacher requirements in that. We are looking at how we roll that out further. As the noble Lord rightly acknowledges, it is all very well having defibrillators, but people have to use them and we also want to make sure we raise awareness of CPR.

My Lords, 12-year-old Oliver King died suddenly of sudden arrhythmic death syndrome, a condition that kills 12 young people under 35 every week. The Oliver King Foundation has been campaigning for a defibrillator in every school. Last September, the Secretary of State for Education said this should happen. The DfE has been working with the NHS to make this possible, but the NHS Supply Chain website says that, in December last year, only 3,200 were advantageously procured for schools to then purchase. Can I ask the Minister: is the NHS expanding its procurement to enable all 22,000 schools to be able to purchase defibrillators now and not just when the school is rebuilt?

The noble Baroness raises an important point: while we require defibrillators to be purchased when a school is refurbished or built, one of the things we are looking at is how we can retrofit this policy. We are talking to different charity partners about the most appropriate way to do this. What we have to recognise is that it is not just the state that can do this; there are many civil society organisations and local charities that are willing to step up and be partners with us, and we are talking to all of them.

My Lords, I declare that I am patron of CRY, a charity that looks at cardiac arrest in the young. Of the 270 children who die each year, 75% of them would still be alive if a defibrillator had been readily available. Do the Government recognise that, as well as having a defibrillator in a school, one must also be on the sports ground because many of the cardiac arrests occur during athletic activities? Therefore, having only one in a school is inadequate. Will the Government consider asking Ofsted to ensure that there is a defibrillator on every sports ground specifically as well as centrally in every school?

As the noble Baroness rightly says, it is important that we get these defibrillators out as widely as possible, including in sports grounds, for the reasons she mentioned. We are looking at how we work with partners in this area; for example, the Premier League announced that it will fund AEDs at thousands of football clubs and in grass-roots sports grounds. Also, Sport England is working with the Football Foundation on this. The defibrillator fund will see AEDs in a number of different sports grounds. We are also looking at other locations and working in conjunction with Sport England and the National Lottery fund. Not only do we have to put defibrillators in place, but people have to know where they are and how to use them.

My Lords, in days of old there were defibrillators in your Lordships’ House. Are they still there?

My Lords, with Travelodge, Tesco and Royal Mail all announcing that they will participate in the British Heart Foundation use training pilot, will the Minister undertake to look at the potential impact of this training on saving lives and work with his ministerial colleagues across government to encourage such training on defibrillator use by other companies, the public sector and other organisations?

If noble Lords will excuse the pun, one of the heartening things in answering this is that, when I received briefing on this, it is really important and interesting how we are working across government. It is not only in the Department of Health; we are working with the Department for Transport on transport locations, DCMS on sports grounds, the Department for Education on education settings and other departments. This is really a cross-government initiative.

My Lords, I was privileged to be at a meeting with Jamie Carragher and Mark King of the Oliver King Foundation and Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi only a few weeks ago. At that meeting with some senior civil servants, he more than indicated that the Department for Education would be very keen to ensure that defibrillators will be in every single school and will not be waiting for the rebuild that has been mentioned. I urge the Minister to go back to the Department for Education and ensure that this happens. The Oliver King Foundation was founded because Mark King’s son, Oliver, passed away at 11 or 12 at a swimming baths in my old school in Liverpool because there was no defibrillator. The point about sports places is right. Can he go back to the Department for Education, get this commitment which I have heard with my own ears and make sure that every school has a defibrillator as soon as possible?

I thank my noble friend for his question. I know he has a long-term interest in this area. Of course I will go back to my department and talk about this. The important thing is making sure that we have more locations, that there is awareness and that people are educated in how to use defibrillators and in wider CPR.