The importance of having defibrillators in public places was highlighted two years ago when the footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed during a Premier League game after having a heart attack.
Having defibrillators on site, along with medical support, was key to Fabrice’s survival and eventual recovery.
I’ve raised the issue in the Senedd asking the Education Minister what action was being taken by the Welsh Government to encourage and enable schools to have a defibrillator on site.
In a written answer, the Minister responded that there was no specific requirement for schools to have access to one of the machines.
Well, that needs to change and the Minister should drive this issue forward. It was surprising to learn that the ambulance service had a list of just 32 schools in Wales that were known to have one of these machines. That’s a small number when you consider just the number of secondary schools in Wales.
Every week 12 young people die suddenly in the UK from an undiagnosed heart condition and access to these machines can help change that appalling statistic. And around 8,000 cardiac arrests happen outside Welsh hospitals annually. The survival rate is just three per cent but rises to between 47% and 50%, where there is access to a defibrillator.
The Minister said the effectiveness of defibrillators was recognised and the Welsh Ambulance Service had introduced them into public places such as railway stations and shopping centres. But there are just 600 public access defibrillators in public places across the whole of Wales.
That needs to increase dramatically – saving just one life through the availability of these machines is more than enough to justify the costs.
The Welsh Government needs to lead on this and a high profile public awareness campaign targeted at both the public and private sectors would be a good start. Public bodies and private businesses, such as shopping centre, should be making people aware that they have them on site.
The Welsh Hearts charity has already donated more than 50 defibrillators. They’re definitely a very good cause to support but it shouldn’t just be down to a charity to fill a gap in equipment –the Welsh Government needs to be more involved than it appears they are at present.